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SCIENCE FICTION 

ADVENTURES 



Vol. No. 24 

1962 



Original Science Fiction Stories 

Novelettes : 
THE DROWNED WORLD J. G. Ballard 2 

Only the tops of the world's great cities 
remained above sea level and the remnants of 
civilisation fought an unusual battle against strange 
dreams. 

BLISS David Rome 57 

The Ship was a long way from Earth — and most 
of Earth's culture had been forgotten, including 
how to be civilised. 

Short Story : 
PRESSURE Lee Harding 88 

Edited by JOHN CARNELL 
Cover painting by LEWIS illustrating "The Drowned World" 

Published bi-monthly by NOVA PUBLICATIONS LTD., Maclaren 
House, 131 Great Suffolk Street, London, S.E.I Tel. : HOP. 5712 

Sole Agents for Australia : Gordon & Gotch (Australia) Ltd. 

Sole Agents for North America : Gordon & Gotch (Canada) Ltd. 
Annual Subscription 17/- post free (6 issues) 
North America $3.00 

The entire contents of this magazine are Copyright 1962 by Nova Publication! Ltd., 
and mutt not be reproduced or translated without the written consent of the publisher 

The publisher assumes no responsibility for unsolicited material All stories printed 
in this magazine are fiction, any similarity between the characters and actual persons 
is purely coincidental. 



Printed in England by The Rugby Advertiser Ltd., Albert Street, Rugby 1 161 



2 



Science Fiction Adventures 



Civilisation ended when the Earth's atmosphere 
changed slightly. In a drowned world Kerans' 
sole idea was to return to the ocean depths 
from which Man had once emerged. 



THE DROWNED 
WORLD 

by J. G. BALLARD 



Chapter One 

Soon it would be too hot. Looking out from the hotel 
balcony shortly after eight o'clock, Kerans watched the sun 
rise behind the dense groves of giant gymnosperms crowding 
over the roofs of the abandoned department stores four 
hundred yards away on the east side of the lagoon. Even 
through the massive olive-green fronds the relentless power of 
the sun was plainly tangible. The blunt refracted rays 
drummed against his bare shoulders and chest, drawing out 
the first sweat, and he slipped on a pair of heavy sunglasses to 
protect his eyes. The solar disc was no longer a well-defined 
sphere, but a wide expanding ellipse that fanned out across 
the eastern horizon like a colossal fire-ball, its reflection 
turning the dead leaden surface of the lagoon into a brilliant 
copper shield. By noon, less than four hours away, the water 
seemed to burn. 

Usually Kerans would wake at five, and reach the biological 
testing station in time to put in at least four or five hours' work 
before the heat became intolerable, but this morning he found 



THE DROWNED WORLD 



3 



himself reluctant to leave the cool, air-curtained haven of the 
hotel suite. He had spent a couple of hours over breakfast 
alone, deliberately delaying his departure until Colonel Riggs 
passed the hotel in his patrol boat, knowing that by then it 
would be too late to go to the station. 

Leaning on the balcony rail, the slack water ten storeys 
below reflecting his thin angular shoulders and gaunt profile, 
he watched one of the countless thermal storms rip through 
a clump of huge horse-tails lining the creek which led out of 
the lagoon. For a few seconds the steam clouds hanging over 
the water dispersed, and a vicious miniature tornado lashed 
across the 60-feet-high plants, toppling them like matchsticks. 
Then, as abruptly, the storm vanished, leaving the great colum- 
nar trunks to subside among one another in the water like 
sluggish alligators. 

Rationalising, Kerans told himself that he had been wise to 
remain in the hotel — the storms were erupting more and more 
frequently as the temperature rose — but he knew that his real 
motive was his acceptance that little now remained to be done. 
The biological mapping had become a pointless game, the new 
flora following exactly the emergent lines anticipated twenty 
years earlier, and he was sure that no-one at Camp Byrd in 
Northern Greenland bothered to file his reports, let alone 
read them. 

In fact, old Dr. Bodkin, Kerans' assistant at the station, had 
slyly prepared what purported to be an eye-witness description 
by one of Colonel Riggs' corporals of a large sail-backed 
lizard with a gigantic dorsal fin that had been seen cruising 
across one of the lagoons, in all respects indistinguishable 
from the Pelycosaur, an early Pennsylvanian reptile. Had 
the report been taken at its face value — heralding the momen- 
tous return of the age of the great reptiles — an army of 
ecologists would have descended on them immediately, 
backed by a tactical atomic weapons unit and orders to proceed 
south at a steady twenty knots. But apart from the routine 
acknowledgement signal nothing had been heard. Perhaps 
even the specialists at Camp Byrd were too tired to laugh. 

At the end of the month Colonel Riggs and his small 
holding group would finally abandon the city (had it once 
been Berlin, Paris or London, Kerans asked himself) and set 
off northward, towing the testing station with them. Kerans 



4 



Science Fiction Adventures 



found it difficult to believe that he would soon leave the pent- 
house suite where he had lived for the past six months. The 
Ritz's reputation, he gladly agreed, was richly deserved, and 
it saddened him slightly to think that he was the last guest who 
would stay at the hotel. The suite had originally been 
designed for a Milanese financier, and was lavishly furnished 
and engineered. 

The heat curtains were still perfectly sealed, although the 
first six storeys of the hotel were below water level and the 
walls were beginning to crack, and the 250-amp air-condition- 
ing unit had worked without a halt. Too many of the other 
buildings around the lagoon had long since slipped and slid 
away below the silt, revealing their gimcrack origins, and the 
Ritz now stood in splendid isolation on the west shore, even 
the rich blue moulds sprouting from the carpets in the high 
dark corridors adding to its 19th Century dignity. 

A giant Anopheles mosquito, the size of a dragon-fly, 
spat through the air past his face, then dived down towards the 
floating jetty where Kerans' catamaran was moored. The 
sun was still hidden behind the vegetation on the eastern side 
of the lagoon, but the mounting heat was bringing the huge 
vicious insects out of their lairs all over the moss-covered 
surface of the hotel. Kerans was reluctant to leave the 
balcony and retreat behind the wire-mesh enclosure. In the 
early morning light a strange mournful beauty hung over the 
lagoon; the sombre green-black fronds of the gymnosperms, 
intruders from the Triassic past, and the half-submerged white- 
faced buildings of the 20th Century still reflected together in 
the dark mirror of the water, the two interlocking worlds 
apparently suspended at some junction in time, the illusion 
momentarily broken when a giant water spider cleft the oily 
surface a hundred yards away. 

In the distance, somewhere beyond the drowned bulk of a 
large Gothic building half a mile to the south, a diesel engine 
coughed and surged. Kerans left the balcony, closing the 
wire door behind him, and went into the bathroom to shave. 
Water had long ceased to flow through the gold-plated taps 
into the black marble basin, but Kerans maintained a reservoir 
in the plunge bath, carefully purified in a home-made still on 
the roof and piped in through the window. 

Although he was only forty, Kerans' beard had been turned 
white by the radio-fluorine in the water, but his bleached 



THE DROWNED WORLD 5 

crew-cut hair and deep amber tan made him appear at least 
ten years younger. A chronic lack of appetite, and the new 
malarias, had shrunk the dry leathery skin under his cheek- 
bones, emphasising the ascetic cast of his face, but in general 
his manner was relaxed and informal. On the way out he 
picked a monographed cream silk shirt from the stack left 
in the wardrobe by the financier, and slipped into a pair of 
neatly pressed slacks with a Zurich label. 

He reached the landing stage as Colonel Riggs' cutter pulled 
in against the catamaran. 

" Morning, Robert," Riggs greeted him, jumping down on 
to the swaying platform of fifty-gallon drums lashed inside a 
wooden frame. " Glad you're still here. I've got a job on 
my hands you can help me with. Can you take the morning 
off from the station ?" 

Kerans helped him on to the concrete balcony that had once 
jutted from a seventh-floor suite. " Of course, Colonel. As 
a matter of fact, I have already." Technically Riggs had 
overall authority for the testing station and Kerans should 
have asked his permission, but the relationship between the 
two men was without ceremony. They had worked together 
for over three years, as the testing station and its military 
escort had moved slowly northward through the European 
lagoons, and Riggs was content to let Kerans and Bodkin get 
on with their work, sufficiently busy himself with the jobs of 
mapping the shifting keys and harbours and evacuating the 
last inhabitants. 



In the latter task he often needed Kerans' help, for most of 
the people still living on in the sinking cities were either 
psychopaths or suffering from malnutrition and radiation 
sickness. Despite his brisk military front, Kerans found the 
Colonel intelligent and sympathetic, and with a concealed 
reserve of droll humour. Sometimes he wondered whether to 
test this by telling the Colonel about Bodkin's Pelycosaur, but 
on the whole decided against it. 

The corporal concerned in the hoax, a dour conscientious 
Scotsman called Macready, had climbed up on to the wire 
cage that enclosed the deck of the cutter and was carefully 
sweeping away the heavy fronds and vines strewn across it. 
None of the three other men tried to help him; under their 
heavy tans their faces looked pinched and drawn. The 



6 



Science Fiction Adventures 



continuous heat and the massive daily doses of antibiotics 
drained all energy from them. 

As the sun rose up over the lagoon, driving clouds of steam 
into the great golden pall, Kerans felt the terrible stench of 
the water-line, the sweet compacted smells of dead vegetation 
and rotting animal carcases. Huge flies spun by, bouncing 
off the wire cage of the cutter, and giant bats raced across the 
water towards their eyries in the ruined buildings. Beautiful 
and serene from his balcony a few minutes earlier, Kerans 
realised that the lagoon was nothing more than a garbage- 
filled swamp. 

" Let's go up on to the deck," he suggested to Riggs. " I'll 
buy you a drink. What's your problem ?" 

" It's not my problem. If anything, in fact, it's yours." 
Riggs trudged up the staircase, slapping with his baton at the 
vines entwined around the rail. Haven't you got the lift 
working yet ? I always thought this place was over-rated." 
However he nodded appreciatively when they stepped into the 
clear ice-cool air of the penthouse, and sat down thankfully 
in one of the gilt-legged Louis XV armchairs. He indicated 
the grey-metal radio console half-buried under a pile of books. 
" Ever try listening to that thing ?" 



Kerans shook his head, pressing a tab in the wall and waiting 
as the cocktail bar disgorged itself from the wall. " Never. 
Is there any point ? We know all the news for the next three 
million years." 

" You don't. Really, you should switch it on just now and 
then. Hear all sorts of interesting things." He took a large 
Scotch from Kerans. " For example, this morning you would 
have heard that exactly three days from now we're packing up 
and leaving here for good." He nodded when Kerans looked 
round in surprise. " Came through last night from Byrd. 
Apparently the water level's still rising, all the work we've 
done has been a total waste — as I've always maintained, 
incidentally. The American and Russian units are being 
recalled as well. Temperatures at the Equator are up to 
one hundred and eighty degrees now, still rising steadily, and 
rain belts are continuous as high as the Twentieth parallel. 
There's more silt too " 

He broke off, watching Kerans speculatively. " What's 
the matter ? Aren't you relieved to be going ?" 



THE DROWNED WORLD 



7 



" Of course," Kerans said, still holding his unfilled glass. 
He seemed to be searching the room for something. " Three 
days, you said?" 

" What do you want — three million ?" Riggs chuckled to 
himself. " Robert, I think you secretly want to stay behind." 

Kerans filled his glass, collecting himself. He had only 
managed to survive the previous year by deliberately suspend- 
ing himself outside the normal world of time and space, and 
the abrupt return to earth had momentarily disconcerted him. 
In addition, he knew, there were other motives and respon- 
sibilities. 

" Don't be absurd," he replied easily. " Naturally I'm glad 
to be going. Though I admit I have enjoyed being here. 
Perhaps it appeals to my fin de siecle temperament. Up at 
Camp Byrd I'll be living in half a mess tin." He finished his 
drink abruptly. " Look, Colonel, I don't think I'll be able to 
come with you this morning after all. Something rather 
urgent has come up." He noticed Riggs nodding slowly. 
" I see. That was your problem. My problem." 

Riggs stood up, buttoning his jacket. " Right. I rang her 
last night, and saw her again this morning. You'll have to 
convince her, Robert. At present she refuses point-blank to 
go. She doesn't realise that this time is the end, that there'll 
be no more holding units. She may be able to hang on for 
another six months, but next March, when the rain belts reach 
here, we won't even be able to get a helicopter in. Anyway, 
by then no-one will care. I told her that, and she just walked 
away." 

Kerans smiled bleakly, visualising the familiar swirl of hip 
and haughty stride. " Beatrice can be difficult sometimes," 
he temporised, hoping that she hadn't offended Riggs. It 
would probably take more than three days to change her mind 
and he wanted to be sure that the Colonel would still be wait- 
ing. " She's a complex person, lives on many levels. Until 
they all synchronise she can behave as if she's insane." 

Five minutes later, the catamaran gliding and swirling 
behind the cutter, they set off from the hotel across the lagoon. 
Golden waves glimmered up into the boiling air, the ring of 
massive plants around them seeming to dance in the heat 
gradients like a voodoo jungle. 

" If she stays here much longer she will be insane," Riggs 
shouted across the roar of the two outboard diesels. " By 



8 



Science Fiction Adventures 



the way, that reminds me of another reason why we've got to 
get out." He glanced across at the tall lonely figure of 
Corporal Macready at the tiller, his eyes staring fixedly at the 
water, and at the pinched haunted faces of the other men. 
" Tell me, Doctor, how do you sleep these days ?" 

For a moment Kerans wondered whether the question 
obliquely referred to himself and Beatrice Dahl. " Very 
soundly," he replied carefully. " Never better. Why do 
you ask ? " 

But Riggs merely nodded and began to shout instructions 
to Macready. 



Chapter Two 

Screeching like a dispossessed banshee, a large hammer- 
nosed bat soared out of one of the narrow inlets off the creek 
and swerved straight towards the cutter. Its sonar confused by 
the labyrinth of giant webs spun across the inlet by the 
colonies of wolf spiders, it missed the wire hood above Kerans' 
head by only a few feet, and then sailed away along the line 
of submerged office blocks, gliding in and out of the huge 
sail-like fronds of the fern-trees sprouting from their roofs. 
Suddenly, as it passed one of the projecting cornices, a motion- 
less stone-headed creature snapped out and plucked the bat 
from the air. There was a brief piercing squawk and Kerans 
caught a glimpse of the crushed wings clamped in the lizard's 
jaws. Then the reptile shrank back invisibly among the 
foliage. 

All the way down the creek, perched in the windows of the 
office blocks and department stores, the iguanas watched them 
go past, their hard frozen heads jerking stiffly. They launched 
themselves into the wake of the cutter, snapping at the insects 
dislodged from the air-weed and rotting logs, then swam 
through the windows and clambered up the staircases to their 
former vantage points, piled three deep across each other. 
Without the reptiles, the lagoons and the creeks of office 
blocks half-submerged in the immense heat would have had a 
strange dream-like beauty, but the iguanas and basilisks 
brought the fantasy down to earth. As their seats in the one- 
time boardrooms indicated, the reptiles had taken over the 
city. Once again they were the dominant form of life. 



THE DROWNED WORLD 



9 



Looking up at the ancient impassive faces, Kerans could 
understand the curious fear they roused, re-kindling archaic 
memories of the terrifying jungles of the Paleocene, when the 
reptiles had gone down before the emergent mammals, and 
sense the implacable hatred one zoological class feels towards 
another that usurps it. 

At the end of the creek they entered the next lagoon, a wide 
circle of dark green water almost half a mile in diameter. A 
lane of red plastic buoys marked a channel towards an opening 
on the far side. The cutter, a square flat-bottomed skiff like 
a huge shoe-box, had a draught of little more than a foot, and 
as they moved along through the flat water, the sun slanting 
down behind them opening up the submerged depths, they 
could see the clear outlines of five- and six-storey buildings 
looming like giant ghosts, here and there a moss-covered 
roof breaking the surface as the swell rolled past it. 

Sixty feet below the cutter a straight grey promenade 
stretched away between the buildings, the remains of some 
former thoroughfare, the black humped shells of cars still 
standing by the curb. Many of the lagoons in the centre of 
the city were surrounded by an intact ring of buildings, and 
consequently little silt had entered them. Free of vegetation, 
apart from a few drifting clumps of Sargasso weed, the streets 
and shops had been preserved almost intact, like a reflection 
in a lake that has somehow lost its original. 

The bulk of the city had long since vanished, and only the 
steel-supported buildings of the central commercial and 
financial areas had survived the encroaching flood waters. 
The brick houses and single-storey factories of the suburbs 
had disappeared completely below the drifting tides of silt. 
Where these broke surface giant forests reared up into the 
burning dull-green sky, smothering the former wheatfields of 
temperate Europe and North America. Impenetrable Matto 
Grossos over two hundred feet high, they were a nightmare 
world of competing organic forms returning rapidly to their 
Paleozoic past, and the only avenues of transit for the govern- 
ment units were through the lagoon systems that had super- 
imposed themselves on the former cities. But even these were 
now being clogged with silt and then submerged. 

Kerans could remember the unending succession of green 
twilights that had settled behind them as he and Riggs moved 
slowly northward across Europe, leaving one city after another, 



10 



Science Fiction Adventures 



the miasmic vegetation swamping the narrow canals and 
crowding from roof-top to roof-top. 

Now they were about to abandon yet another city. Despite 
the massive construction of the main commercial buildings, 
it consisted of little more than three principal lagoons, sur- 
rounded by a nexus of small lakes fifty yards in diameter and 
a network of narrow creeks and inlets which wound off, 
roughly following the original street-plan of the city, into the 
outlying jungle. Here they either vanished altogether or 
expanded into the steaming sheets of open water that were the 
residues of the former oceans. In turn these gave way to the 
archipelagoes that coalesced to form the solid jungles of the 
southern massif. 

The military base set up by Riggs and his platoon, which 
harboured the biological testing station, was in the most 
southerly of the three lagoons, sheltered by a number of the 
tallest buildings of the city, thirty-storey blocks in what had 
once been the down-town financial sector. 

As they crossed the lagoon, leaving the base behind on their 
left, Kerans gazed up at the rectangular cliffs, enough of the 
windows intact to remind him of the illustrations of sun- 
dazzled promenades at Nice, Rio and Miami he had read 
about as a child in the encyclopaedias at Camp Byrd. 
Curiously, though, despite the potent magic of the lagoon 
worlds and the drowned cities, he had never felt any interest 
in their contents, and never bothered to identify which of the 
cities he was stationed in. 

Dr. Bodkin, twenty-five years his senior, had actually 
lived in several of them, both in Europe and America, and 
spent most of his spare time punting around the remoter 
water-ways, searching out former libraries and museums. Not 
that they contained anything other than his memories. 

Perhaps it was this absence of personal memories that made 
Kerans indifferent to the spectacle of these sinking civilisa- 
tions. He had been born and brought up entirely within 
what had once been known as the Arctic Circle — now a sub- 
tropical zone with an annual mean temperature of eighty 
degrees— and had come southward only on joining one of the 
ecological surveys in his early 30's. The vast swamps and 
jungles had been a fabulous laboratory, the submerged cities 
little more than elaborate pedestals. 



THE DROWNED WORLD 



11 



Apart from a few older men such as Bodkin there was no- 
one who remembered living in them — and even during 
Bodkin's childhood the cities had been beleaguered citadels, 
hemmed in by enormous dykes and disintegrated by panic and 
despair. Their charm and beauty lay precisely in their 
emptiness, in the strange junction of two extremes of nature, 
like a discarded crown overgrown by wild orchids. 

The succession of gigantic geophysical upheavals that had 
transformed the Earth's climate had made their first impact 
some sixty or seventy years earlier. Prolonged and violent 
solar storms lasting several years and caused by a slight 
instability in the Sun had diminished Earth's gravitational 
hold upon the outer layers of the ionosphere. As these 
vanished into space, depleting the Earth's barrier against the 
full impact of solar radiation, temperatures began to climb 
steadily, the heated atmosphere expanding outwards into the 
ionosphere where the cycle was completed. 

All over the world mean temperatures rose by a few degrees 
each year. The majority of tropical areas became rapidly 
uninhabitable, entire populations migrating north or south 
from temperatures of a hundred and thirty or a hundred and 
forty degrees. Once-temperate areas became tropical, Europe 
and North America sweltering under continuous heat waves, 
temperatures rarely falling below a hundred degrees. Under 
the direction of the United Nations, the colonisation began of 
the Antarctic plateau and of the northern borders of the 
Canadian and Russian continents. 

Over this initial period of twenty years a gradual adjustment 
of life took place to meet the altered climate. A slackening 
of the previous tempo was inevitable, and there was little spare 
energy available to cut back the encroaching jungles of the 
equatorial region. Not only was the growth of all plant 
forms accelerated, but the higher levels of radioactivity 
increased the rate at which mutations occurred. The first 
freak botanical forms appeared, recalling the giant tree-ferns 
of the Carboniferous period, and there was a drastic upsurge 
of all lower plant and animal forms. 

The arrival of these distant forbears was overlayed by the 
second major geophysical upheaval. The continued heating 
of the atmosphere had begun to melt the polar ice-caps. The 
entrained ice-seas of the Antarctic plateau broke and dissolved, 
tens of thousands of glaciers around the Arctic Circle, from 



12 



Science Fiction Adventures 



Greenland and Northern Europe, Russia and North America, 
poured themselves into the sea, millions of acres of permafrost 
liquefied into gigantic rivers. 

Here again the rise of global water levels would have been 
little more than a few feet, but the huge discharging channels 
carried with them billions of tons of top-soil. Massive deltas 
formed at their mouths, extending the continental coastlines 
and damming up the oceans. Their effective spread shrank 
from two-thirds of the world's area to only slightly more than 
half. 

Driving the submerged silt before them, the new seas com- 
pletely altered the shape and contours of the continents. The 
Mediterranean contracted into a system of inland lakes, the 
British Isles was linked again with northern France. The 
Middle West of the United States, filled by the Misissipi as it 
drained the Rocky Mountains, became an enormous gulf 
opening into the Hudson Bay, while the Carribean Sea was 
transformed into a desert of silt and salt flats. Europe became 
a system of giant lagoons, centred on the principal low lying 
cities, inundated by the silt carried southwards by the ex- 
panding rivers. 

During the next thirty years the pole-ward migration of 
populations continued. A few fortified cities defied the rising 
water-levels and the encroaching jungle, building elaborate 
sea-walls around their perimeters, but one by one these were 
breached. Only within the former Arctic and Antarctic 
Circles was life tolerable. The oblique incidence of the Sun's 
rays provided a shield against the more powerful radiation. 
Cities on higher ground in mountainous areas nearer the 
Equator had been abandoned despite their cooler tempera- 
tures because of the diminished atmospheric protection. 

It was this last factor which provided its own solution to the 
problem of re-settling the migrant populations of the new 
Earth. The steady decline in mammalian fertility, and the 
growing ascendancy of amphibian and reptile forms best 
adapted to an aquatic life in the lagoons and swamps, inverted 
the ecological pattern, and by the time of Kerans' birth at 
Camp Byrd, a city of ten thousand in northern Greenland, it 
was estimated that fewer than five million people were still 
living on the polar caps. 

The birth of a child had become a rarity, and only one 
marriage in ten yielded any offspring. As Kerans sometimes 
reminded himself, the geneaological tree of mankind was 



THE DROWNED WORLD 



13 



systematically pruning itself, apparently moving backwards 
in time, and a point might ultimately be reached where a 
second Adam and Eve found themselves alone in a new Eden. 

Riggs noticed him smiling to himself at this conceit. 
" What's amusing you, Robert ? Another of your obscure 
jokes ? Don't try to explain it to me." 

" I was just casting myself in a new role." Kerans looked 
out over the rail at the office blocks sliding past twenty feet 
away, the wash from the cutter splashing through the open 
windows along the water-line. The sharp tang of wet lime 
contrasted freshly with the over-sweet odours of the vegetation. 
Macready had taken them into the shadow of the buildings and 
it was pleasantly cool behind the breaking spray. 

Over on the sun-ward side of the lagoon the yellow-striped 
three-storey drum of the floating base was almost obscured in 
the reflected light, the rotating blades of the helicopter on its 
roof throwing brilliant lances across the water at them. Two 
hundred yards down shore the smaller white-painted hull of the 
testing station seemed to have moved from its usual moorings 
against a broad hump-backed building that had been a former 
concert hall. Taking off his sunglasses, he saw that one of 
the motor launches was towing it slowly up-stream towards 
the base, and realised with a slight start that Riggs had meant 
what he said about leaving in three days' time. 

Macready swung the tiller, and they pivoted round in a fan 
of spray into the lee of a tall white-faced building that lifted a 
full twenty storeys out of the water. The projecting roof of an 
adjacent smaller block served as a jetty, next to which was 
moored a rusty white-hulled power cruiser. The raked 
perspex windows of the driving cabin were cracked and 
stained, and the exhaust vents leaked a scaly oil on to the 
water. 

They jumped down on to the jetty and crossed a narrow 
metal gangway that led into the apartment block. The walls 
of the corridor were slick with moisture, huge patches of 
mould feeding on the plaster, but the lift was still working, 
powered by the emergency diesel. They rose slowly towards 
the roof and stepped out on to the upper level of the duplex, 
then walked down a service corridor to the outer deck. 

Directly below them was the lower level, a small pool with 
a covered patio, bright deck chairs drawn up in the shade by 



14 



Science Fiction Adventures 



the diving board. Beyond the far end of the pool was a wide 
open view of the lagoon, the city emerging from the en- 
croaching jungle, flat sheets of silver water expanding towards 
the green blur along the southern horizon. Massive silt banks 
lifted their backs through the surface, a light yellow fur along 
their spines marking the emergence of the first giant bamboo 
groves. 

The helicopter rose from its platform on the roof of the base 
and arced upwards into the air towards them, the pilot swinging 
the tail as he changed direction, then roared overhead, two 
men in the open hatchway searching the rooftops with bino- 
culars. 

Beatrice Dahl lay back on one of the deck chairs, her long 
oiled body gleaming in the shadows like a sleeping python. 
The pink-tipped fingers of one hand rested lightly on an ice- 
filled glass on a table beside her, the other hand turned slowly 
through the pages of a magazine. Wide blue-black sun- 
glasses masked her smooth sleek face, but Kerans noted the 
slightly sullen pout of her firm lower lip. Obviously Riggs had 
annoyed her, forcing her to accept the logic of his argument. 

The Colonel paused at the rail, looking down at the beautiful 
supple body with ungrudging approval. Noticing him, 
Beatrice pulled off her sunglasses, then tightened the loosened 
back-straps of her bikini under her arms. Her eyes glinted 
quietly. 

" All right, you two, get on with it. I'm not a strip show." 

Riggs chuckled and trotted down the white metal stairway, 
Kerans at his heels, wondering how he was going to persuade 
Beatrice to leave her private sanctuary. 

" My dear Miss Dahl, you should be flattered that I keep 
coming to see you," Riggs told her, lifting back the awning 
and sitting down on one of the chairs. " Besides, as the 

military governor of this area " here he winked slyly at 

Kerans 1 have certain responsibilities towards you. And 

vice versa." 

Beatrice regarded him briefly with a jaundiced eye and 
reached out to turn up the volume of the radiogram behind her. 
" And what about you, Robert ? What brings you out so 
early in the day?" 

Kerans shrugged, smiling at her amiably. " I missed you." 

" Good boy. I thought perhaps that the gauleiter here had 
been trying to frighten you with his horror stories." 



THE DROWNED WORLD 



15 



" Well, he has, as a matter of fact." Kerans took the 
magazine propped against Beatrice's knee and leafed through 
it idly. It was a forty-year-old issue of Paris Vogue, from its 
icy pages evidently kept somewhere in cold storage. He 
dropped it on the green-tiled floor. " Bea, it looks as if we'll 
all have to leave here in a couple of days' time. The Colonel 
and his men are pulling out for good. We can't very well 
stay on after he's gone." 

" We ?" she repeated dryly. " I didn't know there was any 
chance of your staying behind ?" 

Kerans glanced involuntarily at Riggs, who was watching 
him steadily. " There isn't," he said firmly. " You know 
what I mean. There'll be a lot to do in the next forty-eight 
hours, try not to complicate things by making a last emotional 
stand." 

Before the girl could cut back at Kerans, Riggs added 
smoothly: " The temperature is still going up, Miss Dahl, 
you won't find it easy to stand one hundred and thirty degrees 
when the fuel for your generator runs out. The big Equatorial 
rain belts are moving northward, and they'll be here in a 
month. When they leave, the water in that pool—" he 
indicated the tank of steaming, insect-strewn fluid " — will 
damn nearly boil. What with the Type X Anopheles, skin 
cancers and the iguanas shrieking all night down below, you'll 
get precious little sleep." Closing his eyes for a moment, he 
added pensively: " That is, assuming that you still want any." 

At this last remark the girl's mouth fretted slightly. Kerans 
realised that the quiet ambiguity in Riggs' voice had not been 
directed at his relationship with Beatrice. The Colonel went 
on: " In addition, some of the human scavengers driven 
northward out of the Mediterranean lagoons won't be too 
easy to deal with." 

Beatrice tossed her long black hair over one shoulder. 
" I'll keep the door locked, Colonel." 

Irritated, Kerans snapped: " For God's sake, Beatrice, 
what are you trying to prove? These self-destructive impulses 
may be amusing to play with now, but when we've gone they 
won't be so funny. The Colonel's only trying to help you — he 
doesn't really give a hoot whether you stay behind or not." 

Riggs stood up. " Well, I wouldn't say that. Anyway, 
I'll see you later, Doctor." He saluted Beatrice with a smile. 
" Some time tomorrow I'll send the cutter over to collect your 
gear, Miss Dahl." 



16 



Science Fiction Adventures 



Chapter Three 

When Riggs had gone Kerans lay back in his chair, watching 
the helicopter circle over the adjacent lagoon. Now and then 
it dived along the water's edge, the down-draught from its 
rotor blades beating through the flapping fronds of the fern- 
trees. Beatrice brought a drink from the small chromium 
bar at the rear of the patio and sat down on the chair at his 
feet. 

" I wish you wouldn't analyse me in front of that man, 
Robert." She handed him the drink and then leaned against 
his knees, resting her chin on one wrist. Usually she looked 
sleek and well-fed, but her expression today seemed tired and 
wistful. 

" I'm sorry," Kerans apologised. " Perhaps I was really 
analysing myself. Riggs' ultimatum came as a bit of a surprise; 
I wasn't expecting to leave so soon." 

" You are going to leave then ?" 

Kerans paused. The automatic player in the radiogram 
switched from Beethoven's Pastoral to the Seventh, Toscanini 
giving way to Bruno Walter. All day, without a break, it 
played through the cycle of nine symphonies. He searched 
for an answer, the change of mood, to the sombre opening 
motif of the Seventh, overlaying his indecision. 

" I suppose I want to, but I haven't yet found an adequate 
reason. Satisfying one's emotional needs isn't enough. 
There's got to be a more valid motive. Perhaps these sunken 
lagoons simply remind me of the drowned world of my 
uterine childhood — if so, the best thing is to leave straight 
away. Everything Riggs says is true. There's little hope of 
standing up to the rainstorms and the malaria." 

He placed his hand on her forehead, feeling her temperature 
like a child. " What did Riggs mean when he said you 
wouldn't sleep well ? That was the second time this morning 
he mentioned it." 

Beatrice looked away for a moment. " Oh, nothing. I've 
just had one or two peculiar nightmares recently. A lot of 
people get them. Forget it. Tell me, Robert, seriously — if 
I decide to stay on here, would you? You could share this 
apartment." 

Kerans grinned. " Trying to tempt me, Bea ? What a 
question. Remember, not only are you the most beautiful 
woman here, but you're the only woman. Adam had no 



THE DROWNED WORLD 



17 



aesthetic sense, or he would have realised that Eve was a pretty 
haphazard piece of work." 

" You are being frank today." Beatrice stood up and went 
over to the edge of the pool. She swept her hair back off her 
forehead with both hands, her long supple body gleaming 
against the sunlight. " But is there as much urgency as Riggs 
claims ? We've got the cruiser." 

" It's a wreck. The first serious storm will split it open 
like a rusty can." 

Nearing noon, the heat on the terrace had become uncom- 
fortable and they left the patio and went indoors. Double 
Venetian blinds filtered a thin sunlight into the low wide 
lounge, and the refrigerated air was cool and soothing. 
Beatrice stretched out on a long pale-blue elephant hide sofa, 
one hand playing with the fleecy pile of the carpet. The 
apartment had been one of her grandfather's pied a terres, and 
Kerans wondered how far his personality and its strange 
internal perspectives had been carried forward into his grand- 
daughter. Over the mantelpiece was a huge painting by the 
early 20th Century surrealist Delvaux, in which ashen-faced 
women danced naked to the waist with dignified skeletons in 
tuxedos against a spectral bone-like landscape. On another 
wall one of Max Ernst's self-devouring phantasmagoric 
jungles screamed silently to itself, like the sump of some insane 
unconscious. 

For a few moments Kerans stared quietly at the dim yellow 
annulus of Ernst's sun glowering through the exotic vegetation, 
a curious feeling of memory and recognition signalling through 
his brain. Far more potent than the Beethoven, the image of 
the archaic sun burned against his mind, illuminating the 
fleeting shadows that darted fitfully through its profoundest 
deeps. 

" Beatrice." 

She looked up at him as he walked across to her, a light 
frown crossing her eyes. 

" You realise that if we let Riggs go without us we don't 
merely leave here later. We stay." 

Later that night, as Kerans lay asleep in his bunk at the 
testing station, the dark waters of the lagoon outside drifting 
through the drowned city, the first of the dreams came to him. 
He had left his cabin and walked out on to the deck, looking 



18 



Science Fiction Adventures 



down over the rail at the black luminous disc of the lagoon. 
Dense palls of opaque gas swirled across the sky only a few 
hundred feet overhead, through which he could just discern 
the faint glimmering outline of a gigantic sun. Booming 
distantly, it sent dull glows pulsing across the lagoon, momen- 
tarily lighting the long limestone cliffs which had taken the place 
of the ring of white-faced buildings. 

Reflecting these intermittent flares, the deep bowl of the 
water shone in a diffused opalescent blur, the discharged light 
of myriads of phosphorescing animalcula, congregating in 
dense shoals like a succession of submerged haloes. Between 
them the water was thick with thousands of entwined snakes 
and eels, writhing together in frantic tangles that tore the 
surface of the lagoon. 

As the great sun drummed nearer, almost filling the sky 
itself, the dense vegetation along the limestone cliffs was flung 
back abruptly, to reveal the black and stone-grey heads of 
enormous Triassic lizards. Strutting forward to the edge of 
the cliffs, they began to roar together at the sun, the noise 
gradually separating until it became indistinguishable from 
the volcanic pounding of the solar flares. Beating within him 
like his own pulse, Kerans felt the powerful mesmeric pull 
of the baying reptiles, and stepped out into the lake, whose 
waters now seemed an extension of his own blood-stream. As 
the dull pounding rose, he felt the barriers which divided his 
own cells from the surrounging medium dissolving, and he 
swam forwards, spreading outwards across the black thudding 
water . . . 

He woke in the suffocating metal box of his cabin, his head 
splitting like a burst marrow, too exhausted to open his eyes. 
Even as he sat on the bed, splashing his face in the luke-warm 
water from the jug, he could still see the vast inflamed disc of 
the spectral sun, still hear the tremendous drumming of its 
beat. Timing them, he realised that the frequency was that 
of his own heartbeats, but in some insane way the sounds were 
magnified so that they remained just above the auditory 
threshold, pursuing him as he opened the cabin door and 
moved towards the galley. 

Then he remembered that Beatrice Dahl had seen the same 
dream and pulled himself together. He went out on to the 
deck and looked up at the distant spire of the apartment block, 
trying to decide whether to drive across to her. 



THE DROWNED WORLD 



19 



Bodkin was sitting at the table in the galley, placidly drinking 
coffee. His shrewd quick eyes, misleadingly set in a sagging 
face, watched Kerans unobtrusively as he lowered himself into 
a chair. 

" So you're one of the dreamers now, Robert. You look 
tired. Was it a deep one?" 

Kerans managed an uneasy laugh. " Are you trying to 
frighten me, Alan? I wouldn't know yet, but it felt deep 
enough. God, I wish I hadn't spent last night here. There 
are no nightmares at the Ritz." He sipped pensively at the 
hot coffee. " So that's what Riggs was talking about. How 
many of his men are seeing these dreams?" 

" Riggs himself doesn't, but at least half the others. And 
Beatrice Dahl, of course. I've been seeing them for a full 
three months. It's basically the same recurrent dream in all 
cases." 

Kerans gazed out through the window at the yellow bulk of 
the floating base moored alongside. High up on the top deck 
the helicopter pilot was standing motionless by the rail, 
staring across the cool early morning water. Perhaps he too 
had just woken from the same corporate nightmare, was 
filling his eyes with the olive-green spectrum of the lagoon in 
the hope of erasing the burning image of the dim Triassic 
sun. Kerans looked down at the dark shadows below the 
table, seeing again the faint glimmer of the phosphorescing 
pools. Distantly in his ears he could hear the sun dramming 
over the sunken water. As he recovered from his first fears 
he realised that there was something soothing about its sounds, 
almost reassuring and encouraging like his own heartbeats. 
But the giant reptiles had been terrifying. 

To Bodkin he said: " Remind me to take a phenobarb 
tonight, Alan." 

" Don't," Bodkin warned him firmly. " Not unless you 
want the impact doubled. Your residues of conscious control 
are the only thing holding up the dam." He buttoned his neat 
cotton jacket around his shirtless midriff. " That wasn't a 
true dream, Robert, but an ancient organic memory millions 
of years old." 

He pointed at the ascending rim of the sun through the 
groves of gymnosperms. "The innate releasing mechanisms 
laid down in your cytoplasm millions of years ago have been 
awakened, the expanding sun and the rising temperature are 



20 



Science Fiction Adventures 



driving you back down the spinal levels into the drowned seas 
submerged beneath the lowest layers of your unconscious. 
This is the lumbar transfer, total biopsychic recall. We really 
remember these swamps and lagoons. After a few nights you 
won't be frightened of the dreams, despite their superficial 
horror. That's why Riggs has received orders for us to leave." 

" The Pelycosaur . . . ?" Kerans asked. 

Boskin nodded. " The joke was on us. The reason they 
didn't take it seriously at Byrd was that ours wasn't the first 
to be reported." 



Footsteps sounded up the companionway and moved 
briskly along the metal deck outside. Colonel Riggs pushed 
back the double swing doors, freshly scrubbed and break- 
fasted. 

He waved his baton at them amiably, eyeing the litter of 
unwashed cups and his two bare-chested subordinates. 

" God, what a shambles. Morning to you both. We've 
got a busy day ahead of us so let's get our elbows off the table. 
I've fixed the departure time for twelve hundred hours to- 
morrow, and there'll be a final embarkation stand-by at ten 
hundred. I don't want to waste any more fuel than I have to, 
so dump everything you can overboard. You all right, 
Robert ?" 

" Perfectly," Kerans replied flatly, sitting up. 

" Glad to hear it. You look a bit glassy. Right, then. 
If you want to borrow the cutter to evacuate the Ritz . . ." 

Kerans listened to him automatically, watching the sun as it 
rose magnificently behind the gesticulating outline of the 
Colonel. What completely separated them now was the single 
fact that Riggs had not seen the dream, not felt its immense 
hallucinatory power. He was still obeying reason and logic, 
buzzing around his diminished, unimportant world with his 
little parcels of instructions like a worker bee about to return 
to the home nest. After a few minutes he ignored the Colonel 
completely and listened to the deep subliminal drumming in 
his ears, half-closed his eyes so that he could see the glimmering 
surface of the lake dapple across the dark underhang of the 
table. 

Opposite him Bodkin appeared to be doing the same, his 
hands folded across his waist. Through how many of their 
recent conversations had he in fact been miles away ? 



THE DROWNED WORLD 



21 



When Riggs left, Kerans followed him to the door. " Of 
course, Colonel, everything will be ready in good time. Thank 
you for calling." 

As the cutter moved off across the lagoon he went back to 
his chair. For a few minutes the two men stared across the 
table at each other, the insects outside bouncing off the wire 
mesh as the sun lifted into the sky. At last Kerans spoke. 

" Alan, I'm not sure whether I shall be leaving." 

Without replying, Bodkin took out his cigarettes. " Do 
you know where we are ?" he asked after a pause. " The 
name of this city?" When Kerans shook his head he said: 
" Part of it used to be called London, not that it matters. 
Curiously enough, though, I was born here. Yesterday I 
rowed over to the old University quarter, a mass of little 
creeks, actually found the laboratory where my father used to 
teach. We left here when I was six, but I can just remember 
being taken to meet him one day. A few hundred yards away 
there was a planetarium, I saw a performance once — that was 
before they had to re-align the projector. The big dome is 
still there, about twenty feet below water. It looks like an 
enormous shell, fucus growing all over it, straight out of 
' The Water Babies ' — " He broke off abruptly, his face 
suddenly tired. 

" Go on," Kerans said evenly. 



Chapter Four 

The two men moved quickly along the deck, their padded 
soles soundless on the metal plates. A white midnight sky 
hung across the dark surface of the lagoon, a few stationary 
clumps of cumulus like sleeping galleons. The low night 
sounds of the jungle drifted over the water; occasionally a 
marmoset gibbered or the iguanas shrieked distantly from their 
eyries in the submerged office blocks. Myriads of insects 
festered along the water-line, momentarily disturbed as the 
swells rolled in against the base, slapping at the canted sides 
of the pontoon. 

One by one Kerans began to cast off the restraining lines, 
taking advantage of the swells to lift the loops off the rusting 
bollards. As the station slowly pivoted away he looked up 
anxiously at the dark bulk of the base. Gradually the three 
nearside blades of the helicopter came into view above the top 



22 



Science Fiction Adventures 



deck, then the slender tail rotor. He paused before releasing 
the last line, waiting for Bodkin to give the all-clear from the 
top deck of the station. 

The tension on the line had doubled, and it took him several 
minutes to work the metal loop up the curving lip of the 
bollard, the successive swells giving him a few inches of slack 
as the station tilted, followed a moment later by the base. 
Above him he could hear Bodkin whispering impatiently — 
they had swung right around into the narrow interval of water 
behind them and were now face on to the lagoon, the single 
light in Beatrice Dahl's penthouse burning on its pylon. Then 
he cleared the lip and lowered the heavy cable into the slack 
water three feet below, watching it cleave back towards the 
base. 

Freed of its attendant burden, and with its centre of gravity 
raised by the helicopter on its roof, the huge drum rolled over 
a full five degrees from the vertical, then gradually regained 
its balance. A light in one of the cabins went on, then flicked 
off again after a few moments. Kerans seized the boat-hook 
on the deck beside him as the interval of open water widened, 
first to twenty, then to fifty yards. A low current moved 
steadily through the lagoons, and would carry them back 
along the shore to their former mooring. 

Holding the station off from the buildings they skirted, 
now and then crushing the great soft fern-trees sprouting 
through the windows, they soon covered two hundred yards, 
slowing as the current diminished around the curve, and 
finally lodged in a narrow inlet about a hundred feet square 
in size. 

Kerans leaned over the rail, looking down through the 
dark water at the small cinema theatre twenty feet below the 
surface, its flat roof luckily uncluttered by lift-heads or fire 
escapes. Waving to Bodkin on the deck above, he stepped in 
through the laboratory and made his way past the specimen 
tanks and sinks to the companionway leading down to the 
float. 

Only one stop-cock had been built into the base of the float, 
but as he spun the handwheel a powerful jet of cold foaming 
water gushed up across his legs. By the time he returned to 
the lower deck, after a final check of the laboratory, water was 
already spilling ankle-deep through the scuppers. The 
station went down like a lift, and he waded waist-deep to the 



THE DROWNED WORLD 



23 



companionway and climbed up to the next deck where Bodkin 
was exultantly watching the windows of the adjacent office 
blocks rise into the air. 

They settled about three feet below deck level, on a flat keel 
with a convenient access point by the starboard bridge. 
Dimly below they could hear trapped air bubbling from the 
retorts and fume cupboards in the laboratory, and a frothy 
stain spread across the water from a submerged window by 
one of the reagent benches. 

From the typewriter in his cabin Kerans took a sheet of 
paper, pinned it firmly to the door of the galley. Bodkin 
appended his signature to the message, and the two men went 
out on to the deck again and lowered Kerans' catamaran into 
the water. 

Paddling slowly, the outboard shipped, they glided off across 
the black water, soon disappearing among the dark blue 
shadows along the edge of the lagoon. 

The down-draught from its blades fanning furiously across 
the swimming pool, tearing at the striped awning of the patio, 
the helicopter circled deafeningly over the penthouse, plunging 
and diving as it searched for a landing point. Kerans smiled 
to himself as he watched through the plastic vanes over the 
lounge windows, confident that the tottering pile of kerosene 
drums he and Bodkin had pyramided over the roof would 
safely deter the pilot. One or two of the drums toppled down 
on to the patio and splashed into the pool, and the helicopter 
veered away and then came in more slowly, hovering steadily. 

The pilot swung the fuselage around so that the hatch door 
faced the lounge windows, and the hatless figure of Riggs 
appeared in the doorway, two of the orderlies holding on to 
him as he bellowed into an electric megaphone. 

Beatrice Dahl ran across to Kerans from her observation 
post at the far end of the lounge, cupping her ears from the 
din. 

" Robert, he's trying to talk to us !" 

Kerans nodded, the Colonel's voice completely lost in the 
engine roar. Riggs finished and the helicopter leaned back- 
wards and soared away across the lagoon, taking the noise 
and vibration with it. 

Kerans put his arm around Beatrice's shoulders, the bare 
oiled skin smooth under his fingers. " Well, I think we have 
a pretty good idea what he was saying." 



24 



Science Fiction Adventures 



They went out on to the patio, waving up to Bodkin who 
had appeared from the lift-house and was straightening the 
drums. Standing by the rail, Kerans pointed to the yellow 
hull of the floating base moored by the Ritz in the furthest 
of the three lagoons. 

After a futile attempt to re-float the station Riggs had set off 
at noon as planned, sending the cutter over to the apartment 
house where he assumed the two biologists were hiding. 
Finding the lift out of order and refusing the alternative of a 
twenty-storey climb up the stairway — already a few iguanas 
had made their homes on the lower landings — Riggs had 
finally tried to reach them with the helicopter. Balked there, 
he was now crashing the Ritz. 

"Thank God he's left," Beatrice said fervently. "For 
some reason he really got on my nerves. All that stiff upper 
lip and dressing for dinner in the jungle — a total lack of 
adaptability." 

" Riggs was all right," Kerans remarked quietly. " He'll 
probably get by." He glanced at the thermo-alarm he wore 
next to his wrist-watch. It was after 4.30, but the temperature 
was a hundred and twenty degrees, the sun beating against his 
skin like a fist. They joined Bodkin and went into the air- 
conditioned lounge. 

Resuming the action conference interrupted by the heli- 
copter, Kerans said: " You've got about a thousand gallons 
left in the roof tank, Bea, enough for three months — or let's say 
two, as we can expect it to get a lot hotter — and I recommend 
you to close down the rest of the apartment and move into 
here. You're on the north side of the patio so the lift-house 
will protect you from the heavy rains when they come in on the 
southerly storms. Ten to one the shutters and air-seals along 
the bedroom walls will be breached. What about food, Alan? 
How long will the stocks in the deep freeze last ?" 

Bodkin chuckled dryly. " Well, as most of the lambs, 
tongues in aspic have been eaten they now consist chiefly of 
bully beef, so you could say ' indefinitely'. However, if you're 
actually going to eat the stuff — six months. But I'd prefer 
iguana." 

" No doubt the iguana would prefer us. All right then, 
that seems pretty fair. Alan will be over in the station until 
the level rises, and I'll be holding out at the Ritz. Anything 
else ?" 



THE DROWNED WORLD 



25 



Beatrice wandered away around the sofa towards the bar. 
" Yes, darling. Shut up. You're beginning to sound like 
Riggs. The military manner doesn't suit you." 

Kerans threw her a mock salute and strolled over to look at 
the Ernst, while Bodkin gazed down at the jungle through the 
window. More and more the two scenes were becoming to 
resemble each other, and in turn the third nightscape each of 
them carried within his mind. They never discussed their 
dreams, the common zone of twilight where they moved at 
night like the phantoms in the Delvaux painting. 

Beatrice had sat down in the sofa with her back to him, and 
shrewdly Kerans guessed that the present unity of the group 
would not be long maintained. Now that they had made their 
decision the bonds between them had already begun to fade, 
and it was not simply a matter of convenience that they would 
live apart. Much as he needed Beatrice Dahl, her per- 
sonality intruded upon the absolute freedom he required for 
himself. By and large, each of them would have to pursue 
his or her own pathway through the time jungles, mark their 
own points of return. Although they would see one another 
occasionally, around the lagoons or at the testing station, their 
only true meeting ground would be in their dreams. 

Split by an immense roar, the early morning silence over the 
lagoon shattered abruptly, and a tremendous blare of noise 
battered past the windows of the hotel suite. Kerans leapt 
from his bed, kicked back the mesh door on to the balcony in 
time to see a huge black-hulled hydroplane speed by around 
the lagoon, its two long stepped planes cleaving perfect slices 
of white spray. As the heavy wash slapped against the wall 
of the hotel, breaking up the colonies of water spiders and 
disturbing the bats nesting among the rotting logs, he caught 
a glimpse of a tall, broad-shouldered man in the cockpit, 
wearing a white helmet and jerkin, standing upright at the 
controls. 

He drove the hydroplane with an easy nonchalant swagger, 
accelerating the two powerful propellor turbines mounted in 
front of him as the craft hit the broad swells across the 
lagoon, so that it plunged and dived like a power-boat 
wrestling through giant rollers, throwing up gales of 
rainbowing spray. The man rolled with the surging motion 
of the craft, his long legs supple and relaxed, like a chariotteer 
completely in command of a spirited team. 



26 



Science Fiction Adventures 



The silver studs of a cartridge belt flashed around his waist, 
and as he reached the far side of the lagoon there was a series 
of short explosions. Signal shells burst over the water into 
ragged red umbrellas, the fragments spitting down across the 
shore. 

In a final lunge of energy, its engines screaming, the hydro- 
plane swerved out of the lagoon and gunned away down the 
canal to the next lagoon, its wash thrashing at the foliage. 
Kerans gripped the balcony rail, watching the disturbed rest- 
less water of the lagoon trying to re-settle itself, the giant 
cryptograms and scale trees along the shore tossed and 
flurried by the still surging air. A thin pall of red vapour 
drifted away to the north, fading with the diminishing sounds 
of the hydroplane. The violent irruption of noise and energy, 
and the arrival of this strange white-suited figure, momentarily 
disconcerted Kerans. 

In the six weeks since Riggs' departure he had lived almost 
alone in his penthouse suite at the hotel, immersing himself 
more and more deeply in the silent world of the surrounding 
jungle. The continued increase in temperature — the thermo- 
alarm on the balcony now rang up a noon high of a hundred 
and forty degrees — and the enervating humidity made it 
almost impossible to leave the hotel after ten o'clock in the 
morning; the lagoons and the surrounding jungles were filled 
with fire until six o'clock, by when he was usually too tired to 
do anything but return to bed. 

All day he sat by the screened windows of the suite, listening 
from the shadows to the shifting movement of the jungle. 
Already many of the buildings around the lagoon had dis- 
appeared beneath the proliferating vegetation; huge club- 
mosses and calamites blotted out the white rectangular faces, 
shading the lizards in their window lairs. 

Beyond the lagoon the endless tides of silt had begun to 
accumulate in enormous glittering banks, here and there over- 
topping the shore-line, like the immense tippings of some 
distant gold-mine. The light drummed against his brain, 
bathing the submerged levels below his consciousness, carrying 
him downwards into warm pellucid depths where the nominal 
realities of time and space ceased to exist. Guided by his 
dreams, he was moving backwards through the emergent past, 
through a succession of stranger landscapes, centred upon the 
lagoon, each of which seemed to represent one of his own 



THE DROWNED WORLD 



27 



spinal levels. At times the circle of water was spectral and 
vibrant, at others slack and murky, the shore apparently 
formed of shale, like the dull metallic skin of a reptile. Yet 
again the soft beaches would glow invitingly with a glossy 
carmine sheen, the sky warm and limpid, the emptiness of the 
long stretches of sand total and absolute, filling him with an 
exquisite and tender anguish. 

He longed for this descent through archaeopsychic time to 
reach its conclusion, repressing the knowledge that when it 
did the external world around him would have become un- 
bearable. 

Sometimes, he restlessly made a few entries in his botanical 
diary about the new plant forms, and during the first weeks 
called several times on Dr. Bodkin and Beatrice Dahl. But 
both were increasingly preoccupied with their own descents 
through total time. Bodkin had become lost in his private 
reverie, punting aimlessly about the narrow creeks in search for 
the submerged world of his childhood. However, with 
Beatrice, despite their superficial estrangement, there was an 
intact underlying union, a tacit awareness of their symbolic 
roles. 

More signal shells burst over the distant lagoon, containing 
the station and Beatrice's apartment house, and Kerans 
shielded his eyes as the bright fire-balls studded the sky. A 
few seconds later, several miles away among the silt banks to 
the south, there was a series of answering bursts, faint puffs that 
soon dispersed. 

So the stranger driving the hydroplane was not alone. At 
the prospect of this imminent invasion Kerans pulled himself 
together. The distance separating the answering signals was 
wide enough to indicate that there was more than one group, 
and that the hydroplane was merely a scout vehicle. 

Sealing the mesh door behind him, he hurried back into the 
bedroom, pulling his jacket off the chair. Out of habit he 
went into the bathroom and stood in front of the mirror, 
absently feeling the week-old stubble on his face. The hair 
was white as pearl, and with his ebony tan and blank eyes gave 
him the appearance of an elderly beachcombing tramp. A 
bucket-full of dingy water had leaked in from the wrecked 
still on the roof, and he scooped some out and splashed his 
face. 



28 



Science Fiction Adventures 



Using the metal-tipped boat hook to drive away two small 
iguanas idling on the jetty, he slid the catamaran into the water 
and cast off, the little outboard carrying him steadily through 
the sluggish swells. Huge clumps of algae stirred below the 
craft, and stick-beetle and water spider raced around its 
prows. It was a few minutes after seven o'clock, and the 
temperature was only eighty degrees, comparatively cool and 
pleasant, the air free of the enormous clouds of mosquito 
which would later be roused from their nests by the heat. 

As he navigated the hundred-yard-long creek leading into 
the southern lagoon more signal rockets were exploding over- 
head, and he could hear the hydroplane zooming to and fro, 
occasionally glimpse the white-suited figure at its controls as 
it flashed past. Kerans cut the outboard at the entrance to 
the lagoon and glided quietly through the overhanging fern 
fronds, watching for water snakes disturbed from the branches 
by the surging wash. 

Twenty-five yards along the shore he berthed the catamaran 
among the horsetails growing on the shelving roof of a depart- 
ment store, waded up the sloping concrete to a fire escape on 
the side of the adjacent building. He climbed the five storeys 
to the flat roof-top and lay down behind a low pediment, 
glancing up at the nearby bulk of Beatrice's apartment house. 

The hydroplane was circling noisily by an inlet on the far 
side of the lagoon, the driver plunging it backwards and for- 
ward like a horseman reining his steed. More flares were 
going up, some only a quarter of a mile away. As he watched 
Kerans noticed a low but mounting roar, a harsh animal sound 
not unlike that emitted by the iguanas. It drew nearer, 
mingled with the drone of engines, followed by noise of vege- 
tation being torn and buffeted. Sure enough, along the course 
followed by the inlet, the huge fern trees and calamites were 
flung down one after another, their branches waving as they 
fell like vanquished standards. The whole jungle was being 
torn apart. Droves of bats erupted into the air and scattered 
frantically across the lagoon, their screeching masked by the 
accelerating turbines of the hydroplane, and the exploding 
star-shells. 

Abruptly, the water in the mouth of the inlet rose several 
feet into the air, what seemed to be an enormous log-jam 
crushed down it, tearing the vegetation away, and burst out 
into the lagoon. A miniature niagara of foaming water 



THE DROWNED WORLD 



29 



cascaded outwards, impelled by the pressure of the tidal bore 
behind it, on which rode several square black-hulled craft like 
Colonel Riggs' cutter. Manned by a dozen dusky-skinned 
figures in white shorts and singlets, the scows jockeyed out 
towards the centre of the lagoon, the last of the star-shells 
still going up from their decks in the general melee and 
excitement. 

Half-deafened by the noise, Kerans stared down at the vast 
swarm of long brown forms swimming powerfully through 
the seething water, their massive tails lashing the foam. By 
far the largest alligators he had seen, many of them over 
twenty-five feet long, they jostled together ferociously as they 
fought their way into the clear water, churning in a pack 
around the now stationary hydroplane. The white-suited 
man was standing in the open hatchway, hands on hips, gazing 
exultantly at this reptilian brood. He waved lazily at the 
crews of the three scows, then gestured in a wide circle at the 
lagoon, indicating that they would anchor there. 

As his Negro lieutenants re-started their engines and 
drifted off towards the bank, he surveyed the surrounding 
buildings with a critical eye, his strong face raised almost 
jauntily to one side. The alligators congregated like hounds 
around their master, more and more joining the pack, cruising 
shoulder to shoulder in a clock-wise spiral, until at least two 
thousand were present, a massive group incarnation of rep- 
tilian evil. 

Chapter Five 

With a shout, the pilot swung back to his controls, the two 
thousand snouts lifting in recognition. The propellors 
kicked into life and lifted the hydroplane forward across the 
water. Its sharp planes ploughing straight across the hapless 
creatures in their path, it drove away towards the communi- 
cating creek into the next lagoon, the great mass of alligators 
surging along behind it. A few detached themselves and 
cruised off in pairs around the lagoon, ferreting among the 
submerged windows and driving off the iguanas who had 
come out to watch. Others glided among the buildings and 
took up their positions on the barely covered rooftops. 

As the advancing armada headed towards the creek on his 
left, Kerans scrambled down the fire escape and splashed 



30 



Science Fiction Adventures 



down the slope to the catamaran. Before he could reach it 
the heavy wash set up by the hydroplane had rocked the craft 
adrift and it floated off into the oncoming mass. Within a 
few seconds it was engulfed, upended by the press of alligators 
fighting to get into the creek and cut to pieces in their snapping 
jaws. 

A large caiman bringing up the rear spotted Kerans waist- 
deep among the horsetails and veered towards him, its eyes 
steadying. Quickly Kerans retreated up the slope, slipping 
once to his shoulders, reached the fire escape as the reptile 
lumbered out of the shallows on its short hooked legs and 
lunged at his leaping feet. 

Panting, Kerans leaned on the rail, looking down at its cold 
unblinking eyes, regarding him dispassionately. 

" You're a well-trained watchdog," he told it ungrudgingly. 
He eased a loose brick from the wall and launched it with both 
hands at the caiman's snout, grinning as it bellowed and 
backed off, snapping irritably at the horsetails and a few 
drifting spars of the catamaran. 



After half an hour, and a few minor duels with the retreating 
iguanas, he managed to cross the intervening two hundred 
yards of shoreline and reach Beatrice's apartment house. She 
met him as he stepped out of the lift, wide-eyed with alarm. 

" Robert, what's happening ?" She put her hands on his 
shoulders and pressed her head against his damp shirt. 
" Have you seen the alligators ? There are thousands of 
them !" 

" Seen them — I was nearly eaten by one on your doorstep." 
Kerans released himself from her and hurried over to the 
window, pushed back the plastic vanes. The hydroplane had 
entered the central lagoon and was circling it at speed, the 
shoal of alligators following in its wake, those at the tail 
breaking off to station themselves at points around the shore. 
At least thirty or forty had remained in the lagoon below, and 
were cruising about slowly in small patrols, occasionally 
swerving on a careless iguana. 

" Those devilish things must be their watchguards," Kerans 
decided. " Like a tame troupe of tarantulas. Nothing 
better, when you come to think of it." 

Beatrice stood beside him, nervously lingering the collar of 
the faded Paisley shirt she had pulled on over her swim-suit. 



THE DROWNED WORLD 



31 



Her face was without make-up, and she wore her hair piled 
loosely on top of her head. 

" But who are they, Robert ? That man in the speed-boat 
frightens me. I wish Colonel Riggs was here." 

" He'll be a thousand miles away by now, if he hasn't already 
reached Byrd. Don't worry, Bea. They may look a piratical 
crew, but there's nothing we can give them." 

A large three-decker paddle-boat, paddles set fore and aft, 
had entered the lagoon and was slowly moving over to the 
three scows drawn up a few yards from where Riggs' base had 
been moored. It was loaded with gear and cargo, decks 
crammed with large bales and canvas-swathed machinery, so 
that there was only six inches of freeboard amidships. 

Kerans guessed that this was the group's depot ship, and 
that they were engaged, like most of the other freebooters still 
wandering through the Equatorial lagoons and archipelagoes, 
in pillaging the drowned cities, reclaiming the heavy special- 
ised machinery such as electrical power generators and switch- 
gear that had been perforce abandoned by the government. 
Nominally such looting was highly penalised, but in fact the 
authorities were only too eager to pay a generous price for 
any salvage. 

" Look ! " 

Beatrice gripped Kerans' elbow. She pointed down at the 
testing station, where the rumpled, shaggy-haired figure of 
Dr. Bodkin stood on the roof, waving slowly at the men on the 
bridge of the paddle-boat. One of them, a bare-chested 
Negro in white slacks and a white peaked cap, began to shout 
back through a hailer. 

Kerans shrugged. " Alan's right. We've everything to 
gain by showing ourselves. If we help them they'll soon push 
off and leave us alone." 

Beatrice hesitated, but Kerans took her arm. The hydro- 
plane, now free of its entourage, was crossing the central 
lagoon on its return, leaping lightly through the water on a 
beautiful wake of foam. 

" Come on, if we get down to the jetty in time, he'll probably 
give us a lift." 

His handsome saturnine face regarding them with a mixture 
of suspicion and amused contempt, Strangman lounged back 
under the cool awning that shaded the poop deck of the depot 



32 



Science Fiction Adventures 



ship. He had changed into a crisp white suit, the silk-like 
surface of which reflected the gilt plate of his high-backed 
Rennaissance throne, presumably dredged from some Venetian 
or Florentine lagoon, and invested his strange personality 
with an almost magical aura. 

" Your motives seem so complex, Doctor," he remarked to 
Kerans. " But perhaps you've given up hope of understand- 
ing them yourself. We shall label them the total beach 
syndrome and leave it at that." 

He snapped his fingers at the steward standing in the 
shadows behind him and selected an olive from the tray of 
small chow. Beatrice, Kerans and Bodkin sat in a semicircle 
on the low couches, alternately chilled and roasted as the 
erratic air-conditioner above them varied its perimeter. 
Outside, half an hour before noon, the lagoon was a bowl of 
fire, the scattered light almost masking the tall apartment 
house on the opposite bank. The jungle was motionless in the 
immense heat, the alligators hiding in whatever shade they 
could find. 

Nonetheless several of Strangman's men were messing about 
in one of the scows, unloading some heavy diving equipment, 
under the direction of a huge hunchbacked Negro in a pair of 
green cotton shorts. Now and then he took off his eye-patch 
to bellow abuse at them, and the mingled grunts and curses 
drifted across the steaming air. 

" But tell me, Doctor," Strangman pressed, apparently 
dissatisfied with Kerans' answers, " when do you finally 
propose to leave ?" 

Kerans hesitated, wondering whether to invent a date. After 
waiting an hour for Strangman to change, he had offered 
their greetings to him and tried to explain why they were still 
there. However, Strangman seemed unable to take the 
explanation seriously, swinging abruptly from amusement at 
their naivety to sharp suspicion. 

" We haven't really considered the possibility," Kerans said. 
" I think we all hope to stay on indefinitely. We have small 
stocks of supplies." 

" But my dear man," Strangman remonstrated, " the 
temperature will soon be up to nearly two hundred degrees. 
The entire planet is rapidly returning to the Mesozoic Period." 

" Precisely," Dr. Bodkin cut in, rousing himself for a 
moment from his deep introspection. " And insofar as we are 



THE DROWNED WORLD 



33 



part of the planet, a piece of the main, we too are returning. 
This is our zone of transit, here we are re-assimilating our own 
biological pasts. There is no ulterior motive, Strangman." 

" Of course not, Doctor, I completely respect your sin- 
cerity." Shifts of mood seemed to cross and re-cross Strang- 
man's face, making him look in turn irritable, amiable, 
abstracted and speculative. He listened to an air-line pumping 
from the scow, then asked: " Dr. Bodkin, did you live in 
London as a child? You must have many sentimental 
memories to recapture." He added: " Or are the only claims 
you recognise pre-uterine ones ?" 

Kerans looked up, noting that Strangman was not only 
watching Bodkin shrewdly, but also waiting for any reaction 
from himself and Beatrice. 

But Bodkin gestured vaguely. " No, I'm afraid I remember 
nothing of it. The immediate past is of no interest to me." 

" What a pity," Strangman rejoined archly. " The trouble 
with you people is that you've been here for thirty million 
years and your perspectives are all wrong. You miss so much 
of the transitory beauty of life. I'm fascinated by the imme- 
diate past — the treasures of the Triassic compare pretty un- 
favourably with those of the closing years of the Second 
Millenium." 

Over his shoulder he rapped a short command at the steward, 
then sat frowning to himself. Kerans realised that the skin 
of his face and his hands was uncannily white, devoid alto- 
gether of any pigmentation. Keran's heavy sunburn, like that 
of Beatrice and Dr. Bodkin, made him virtually indistinguish- 
able from the remainder of the crew, and the subtle distinctions 
between the mulattos and quadroons had vanished. Strang- 
man alone retained his original paleness, the effect emphasised 
by the white suit he had chosen. 

The bare-chested Negro in the peaked cap appeared, sweat 
rilling across his powerful muscles. His manner was deferen- 
tial and observant, and Kerans wondered how Strangman 
managed to maintain his authority over the crew, and why 
they accepted his harsh, callous tone. 

Strangman introduced the Negro curtly. " This is the Ad- 
miral, my chief whip. If I'm not around when you want me, 
deal with him." He stood up. " Before you leave, let me 
take you on a brief tour of my treasure ship." He extended 
an arm gallantly to Beatrice, who took it timorously, his eyes 
glinting and rapacious. 



34 



Science Fiction Adventures 



Four decks below, they entered the main storehold, a dim 
stifling cavern packed with crates, the floor strewn with 
sawdust. The Admiral and another sailor followed them 
closely, continually hosing them with ice-cold air. Strangman 
snapped his fingers and the Admiral quickly began to pull 
away the canvas wrappings. 

In the thin light Kerans could just see the glimmering out- 
lines of a huge ornamented altarpiece, fitted with elaborate 
scroll-work and towering dolphin candelabra, topped by a 
neo-classical proscenium which would have covered a small 
house. Next to it stood a dozen pieces of statuary, both 
bronze and marble, all of the Rennaissance, stacks of heavy 
gilt frames propped against them. Beyond these were several 
smaller altar-pieces and triptyches, an intact pulpit in panelled 
gold, three large equestrian statues, a few strands of sea-weed 
still entwined in the horses' manes, several pairs of enormous 
cathedral doors, embossed in gold and silver, and a large 
tiered fountain. The metal shelves around the sides of the 
hold were loaded with smaller brie a brae; votive urns, 
goblets, shields and salvers, pieces of decorative armour, 
ceremonial inkstands and the like. 

Still holding Beatrice's arm, Strangman gestured expan- 
sively a few yards ahead. Kerans heard him say ' Sistine 
Chapel ' but Bodkin muttered: " Aesthetically most of this is 
rubbish, picked for the gold content alone." 



Kerans nodded, watching Strangman in his white suit, the 
bare-legged Beatrice beside him. Suddenly he remembered 
the Delvaux painting, with its tuxedoed skeletons. Strang- 
man's chalk-white face was like a skull, and he had something 
of the skeleton's jauntiness. For no reason he began to feel 
an intense loathing for the man, his hostility more generalised 
than personal. 

" Well, Kerans, what do you think of them ?" Strangman 
pivoted at the end of the aisle and swung back, barking at the 
Admiral to cover the exhibits again. " Impressed, Doctor ?" 

Kerans managed to take his eyes off Strangman's face and 
glanced at the looted relics. 

" They're like bones," he said flatly. 

Baffled, Strangman shook his head. " Bones ? What on 
earth are you talking about ? Kerans, you're insane ! 
Bones, Good God !" 



THE DROWNED WORLD 



35 



As he let out a martyred groan, the Admiral took up the 
refrain, first saying the word quietly to himself, then repeating 
it more and more rapidly, his broad face gibbering with 
laughter. The other crew-man joined in, and together they 
began to chant it out, convulsed over the fire hose. 

" Bones ! Yes, man, dem's all bones ! Dem bones dem 
bones dem . . . !" 

In annoyance Strangman rushed forward, pressed the palm 
of his hand in Keran's back and propelled him along the aisle 
out of the hold. Five minutes later, as they drove off in one 
of the scows, the Admiral and five or six other members of the 
crew lined the rail, still chanting and dancing. Strangman 
had regained his humour, and stood coolly in his white suit, 
detached from the others, waving ironically. 



Chapter Six 

During the next two weeks, as the southern horizon became 
increasingly darkened by the approaching rain-clouds, Kerans 
saw Strangman frequently. Usually he would be driving his 
hydroplane at speed around the lagoons, his white lounge suit 
exchanged for overalls and helmet, supervising the work of 
the salvage teams. One scow, with half a dozen men, was 
working in each of the three lagoons, the divers methodically 
exploring the sunken buildings. Occasionally the placid 
routines of descent and pump would be interrupted by the 
sounds of rifle fire as an alligator venturing too near the divers 
was despatched. 

Sitting in the darkness in his hotel suite, Kerans was far 
away from the lagoon, content to let Strangman dive for his 
loot as long as he would soon leave. More and more the 
dreams had begun to encroach on his waking life, his conscious 
mind becoming increasingly drained and withdrawn. The 
single plane of time on which Strangman and his men existed 
seemed so transparent as to have a negligible claim to reality. 
Now and then, when Strangman came to call on him, he would 
emerge for a few minutes on to this tenuous plane, but the real 
centre of his consciousness was elsewhere. 

Curiously, after his initial irritation, Strangman had deve- 
loped a sneaking liking for Kerans. The biologist's quiet, 
angular mind was a perfect target for Strangman's dry humour. 
At times he would subtly mimic Kerans, earnestly taking his 



36 



Science Fiction Adventures 



arm during one of their dialogues and saying in a pious voice: 
" You know, Kerans, leaving the sea two hundred million 
years ago may have been a deep trauma from which we've 
never recovered ..." 

On another occasion he sent two of his men over in a skiff to 
the lagoon; on one of the largest buildings on the opposite 
bank they painted in letters thirty feet high: 

TIME ZONE 

Kerans took this banter in good part, ignoring it when the 
diver's lack of success made it more severe. Sinking back- 
ward through the past, he waited patiently for the coming of 
the rain. 

" Kerans !" 

Roused by the deep blare of the hydroplane approaching 
the landing stage, Kerans managed to climb out of bed by the 
time Strangman climbed the stairs. 

Chucking his helmet down on to the floor, Strangman 
produced a decanter of hot black coffee and a tinned Stilton 
cheese green with age. 

" A present for you." He examined Kerans' dulled eyes 
with an amiable frown. " Well, how are things in deep time?" 

Kerans sat on the edge of the bed, waiting for the booming 
of the phantom jungles in his mind to fade. Like an endless 
shallows, the residues of the dreams stretched away below the 
surface of the reality around him. " What brings you here?" 
he asked flatly. 

Strangman put on an expression of deep injury. 

" Kerans, I like you. You keep forgetting that." He 
turned up the volume of the air-conditioner, smiling at 
Kerans, who gazed watchfully at the wry, perverted leer. 
" Actually I have another motive — I want you to have dinner 
with me tonight. Don't start shaking your head. I have to 
keep coming here, it's time I returned your hospitality. 
Beatrice and old Bodkin will be there, it should be pretty 
swagger — fire-work displays, bongo drums and a surprise." 

" What exactly ?" 

" You'll see. Something really spectacular, believe me, 
I don't do things by halves. I'd have those 'gators dancing 
on the tips of their tails if I wanted to." He nodded solemnly. 
" Kerans, you're going to be impressed. And it may even do 
you some good mentally, stop this crazy time machine of 



THE DROWNED WORLD 



37 



yours." His mood changed again, becoming distant and 
abstracted. " But I mustn't poke fun at you, Kerans, I 
couldn't bear a tenth of the personal responsibility you've 
shouldered. The tragic loneliness, for example, and those 
haunted Triassic swamps." He picked a copy of Donne's 
poems off the air-conditioner and extemporised a line : 
" World within world, each man an island unto himself, 
swimming through seas of archipelagoes ..." 

Fairly certain that he was fooling, Kerans asked: " How's 
the diving going ?" 

" Frankly, not very well. The city's too far north for much 
to have been left. But we've discovered a few interesting 
things. You'll see tonight." 

As he rode across the lagoon to the paddle-ship later that 
evening, Kerans speculated on the probable nature of Strang- 
man's ' surprise ', hoping that it would not be some elaborate 
practical joke. The effort of shaving off his beard and 
putting on a white dinner jacket had tired him, and he doubted 
if he would have enough energy left to make small talk with 
Dr. Bodkin and Beatrice. He had seen neither of them since 
their joint first meeting with Strangman, though every evening 
the latter drove over in his hydroplane to Beatrice's apartment 
house. What success he had Kerans could only guess, but 
Strangman's references to her — " These women exist on too 
many levels " or " She keeps talking about you, Robert, 
confound her " — suggested a negative response. 

Some sort of preparations were obviously afoot in the 
lagoon. The depot ship had been moored about fifty yards 
from shore, strung with awnings and coloured lights, and the 
two remaining scows were working systematically along the 
banks, driving the alligators into the central lagoon. 

Kerans pointed to a big caiman thrashing about in a circle 
of boat hooks. " What's on the menu tonight — roast 
alligator ?" 

The giant hunch-backed mulatto at the helm of the scow — 
known to Strangman as Big Caesar — shrugged with studied 
vagueness. " Strang' got a big show tonight, Mistah Kerans, 
a real big show. You see." 

Strangman met each one as they arrived at the head of the 
gangway. In high spirits, he managed a sustained mood of 
charm and good cheer, complimenting Beatrice elaborately on 



38 



Science Fiction Adventures 



her appearance. She wore a full-length blue brocade ball 
dress, the turquoise mascara around her eyes making her look 
like some exotic bird of paradise. Even Bodkin had managed 
to trim his beard and salvage a respectable linen jacket an old 
piece of crepe around his neck a ragged concession to a black 
tie. Like Kerans, however, they both seemed glazed and 
remote, joining in the conversation over dinner automatically. 

Throughout the meal Strangman supervised the succession 
of wines, taking advantage of his absences from the table to 
confer with the Admiral. With the final brandies before them 
Strangman sat down apparently for the last time, winking 
broadly at Kerans. Two of the scows had moved over to the 
inlet by the far side of the lagoon, and the third took up its 
position in the centre, from where it released a small fire-work 
display. 

The last sunlight still lay over the water, but had faded 
sufficiently for the bright Catherine wheels and rockets to 
flicker and dazzle, their sharp explosions etched clearly against 
the crepuscular sky. The smile on Strangman's face grew 
broader and broader, until he lay back on his chesterfield 
grinning soundlessly to himself, the red and green flashes 
illuminating his saturnine features. 

Uncomfortably, Kerans leaned forward to ask him when 
their surprise would materialise, but Strangman anticipated 
him. 

" Well, haven't you noticed ? Beatrice, Dr. Bodkin ? 
You three are slow. Come out of deep time for a moment." 

Puzzled, Kerans searched the sky and the lagoon. The dusk 
had come in rather more quickly than he expected, the faces of 
the buildings opposite sinking into shadow. At the same time 
the sky remained clear and visible in the sunset, the tops of 
the surrounding vegetation brilliantly tinted. 

A low drumming sounded somewhere in the distance, the 
air-pumps that had worked all day and whose noise had been 
masked by the pyrotechnic display. Around the ship the 
water had become curiously slack and lifeless, the low swells 
that usually disturbed it absent. Wondering whether an 
exhibition of underwater swimming had been arranged for a 
troupe of trained alligators, he peered down at the surface. 

" Alan ! Look, for heaven's sake ! Beatrice, can you 
see ?" Kerans kicked back his chair and leapt to the rail, 



THE DROWNED WORLD 



39 



pointing down in amazement at the water. " The level's 
going down !" 

Looming just below the dark pellucid surface were the dim 
rectangular outlines of the submerged buildings, their open 
windows like empty eyes in enormous drowned skulls. Only 
a few feet from the surface, they drew closer, emerging from 
the depths like an immense intact Atlantis. First a dozen, 
then a score of buildings appeared to view, their cornices and 
fire escapes clearly visible through the thinning refracting glass 
of the water. Most of them were only four or five storeys 
high, part of a district of small shops and offices enclosed by 
the taller buildings that had formed the perimeter of the 
lagoon. 

Fifty yards away the first of the roofs broke surface, a 
blunted rectangle smothered with weeds and algae across which 
slithered a few desperate fish. Immediately half a dozen 
others appeared around it, already roughly delineating a 
narrow street. The upper line of windows emerged, water 
spilling from their ledges, fucus draped from the straggling 
wires that sagged across the roadways. 

Already the lagoon had vanished. As they sank slowly 
downwards, settling into what seemed to be a large open 
square, they were now looking across a diffuse straggle of 
rooftops, punctuated by eroded chimneys and spires, the flat 
sheet of the surface transformed into a jungle of cubist blocks, 
at its boundaries merging into the higher ground of the 
enveloping vegetation. What remained of the water had 
formed into distinct channels, dark and sombre, eddying away 
around corners and into narrow alleyways. 

" Robert, stop it ! It's horrible !" Kerans felt Beatrice seize 
his arm, her long blue nails biting through the fabric. She 
gazed out at the emerging city, an expression of revulsion on 
her tense face, physically repelled by the sharp acrid smells of 
the exposed water-weeds and algae, the damp barnacled forms 
of rusting litter. Veils of scum draped from the criss-crossing 
telegraph wires and tilting neon signs, and a thin coating of silt 
cloaked the faces of the buildings, turning the once limpid 
beauty of the underwater city into a drained and festering 
sewer. 

For a moment Kerans fought to free his mind, grappling 
with this total inversion of his normal world, unable to accept 
the logic of the rebirth before him. First he wondered 



40 



Science Fiction Adventures 



whether there had been a total climatic reversal that was 
shrinking the formerly expanding seas, draining the submerged 
cities. If so, he would have to make his way back to this new 
present, or be marooned millions of years away on the beach of 
some lost Triassic lagoon. But deep within his mind the great 
masked sun pounded dimly with a strength still undiminished, 
and beside him he heard Bodkin mutter: 

" Those pumps are powerful. The water's going down by 
a good two or three feet a minute. We're not far from the 
bottom now. The whole thing's fantastic !" 

Laughter rocked out into the darkening air as Strangman 
rolled about mirthfully on the chesterfield, dabbing his eyes 
with a napkin. Released from the tension of staging the 
spectacle he was now exulting in the three bewildered faces at 
the rail. On the bridge above him the Admiral watched with 
dry amusement, the fading light across his bare chest. Two or 
three men below were taking in the mooring lines, holding the 
orientation of the ship in the square. 



The two scows which had moved over to the creek mouth 
during the fire work display were floating behind a massive 
boom, and a foaming mass of water poured from the twin vents 
of a huge pumping system. Then the roof-tops obscured their 
view across the interval, and the people on the deck were 
looking up at the blanched buildings of the square. Only 
fifteen or twenty feet of water remained, and a hundred yards 
away down one of the side streets they could see the third scow 
wending tentatively below the trailing wires. 

Strangman controlled himself and came over to the rail. 
" Perfect, don't you agree, Dr. Bodkin ? What a jest, a really 
superb spectacle ! Come on, Doctor, don't look so piqued, 
congratulate me ! It wasn't too easy to arrange." 

Bodkin nodded and moved away along the rail, his face still 
stunned. Kerans asked: " But how did you seal off the 
perimeter ? There's no continuous wall around the lagoon." 

" There is now, Doctor. I thought you were the expert in 
marine biology. The fungi growing in the swamp mud 
outside consolidated the entire mass, for the last week there's 
only been one point of influx, took us five minutes to dam it 
up." 

He gazed out brightly at the emerging streets in the dim light 
around them, the humped backs of cars and buses appearing 



THE DROWNED WORLD 



41 



through the surface. Giant anemones and star-fish flopped 
limply in the shadows, collapsing kelp straggled out of 
windows. 

Numbly, Bodkin said: " Leicester Square." 

His laughter vanishing, Strangman swung on him, his eyes 
peering eagerly at the neon-covered porticos of the hulks of 
former cinemas and theatres. 

" So you do know your way around here, Doctor ! A pity 
you couldn't have helped us before, when we were getting 
nowhere." He slammed the rail with an oath, jarring Kerans' 
elbow. " By God, though, we're really in business now !" 
With a snarl he flung himself away from them, kicking back 
the dining table, shouting up at the Admiral. 

Beatrice watched him disappear below with alarm, a slender 
hand on her throat. " Robert, he's insane. What are we 
going to do — he'll drain all the lagoons." 

Kerans looked up at the round bulk of the testing station, 
poised on the cinema behind them like an enormous boulder 
on the edge of a cliff. Apparently eighty to ninety feet higher, 
the tall buildings around the lagoon perimeter now cut off 
half the sky, enclosing them in a dim canyon-floor world. 

" It doesn't matter that much," Kerans temporised. He 
steadied her against his arm, as the ship touched bottom and 
rolled slightly, crushing a small car under the port bow. 
" When he's finished stripping the stores and museums they'll 
leave. Anyway, the rain-storms will be here in a week or two." 

Beatrice cleared her throat distastefully, wincing as the 
first bats flickered among the roof-tops, darting from one 
dripping eave to another. " But it's all so hideous. I can't 
believe that anyone ever lived here. It's like some imaginary 
city of hell. Robert, I need the lagoon." 

" Well, we could leave and move south across the silt flats. 
What do you think, Alan ?" 

Bodkin shook his head slowly, still staring out blankly at 
the darkened buildings around the square. You two go, I 
must stay here." 

The streets had almost been drained. The approaching 
scow ran aground on the pavement, pushed off again and then 
stuck finally on a traffic island. Led by Big Caesar, the three- 
man crew jumped down into the waist-deep water and waded 
noisily towards the depot ship, splashing water excitedly into 
the open shop-fronts. 



42 



Science Fiction Adventures 



With a jolt the paddle-ship settled itself firmly on the 
bottom, cheers and shouts going up from Strangman and the 
rest of the crew as they fended off the snapping overhead wires 
and tilted telegraph poles. A small dinghy was thrown into 
the water, and to a chorus of fists pounding a drum-beat on the 
rail the Admiral rowed Strangman across the shallow water to 
a fountain in the centre of the square. Here Strangman 
debarked, pulled a flare pistol from a pocket of his dinner 
jacket and with an exultant shout began to fire salvo after 
salvo of coloured star-shells into the air overhead. 



Chapter Seven 

Half an hour later Beatrice, Kerans and Dr. Bodkin were 
able to walk out into the streets. Huge pools of water still lay 
about everywhere, leaking from the ground floors of the 
buildings, but they were little more than two or three feet deep. 
There were clear stretches of pavement over a hundred yards 
long, and many of the further streets were completely drained. 
Dying fish and marine plants expired in the centre of the 
roadways, and huge banks of black sludge were silted up into 
the gutters and over the pavement, but fortunately the escaping 
waters had cut long pathways through them. 

Strangman at their head, racing along in his white suit, 
firing star-shells into the dark streets, the crew charged off in 
a bellowing pack, those in the front balancing a rum keg on 
their upturned palms, the others brandishing an assortment of 
bottles, machetes and guitars. A few derisive shouts of 
' Mistah Bones ' faded around Kerans as he helped Beatrice 
down off the gangway, and then the trio were left alone in the 
silence by the huge stranded paddle-ship. 

Glancing up uncertainly at the high distant ring of the jungle 
looming out of the darkness like the encircling lip of a volcano 
cone, Kerans led the way across the pavement to the nearest 
buildings. They stood in the entrance of one of the huge 
cinemas, sea urchins and cucumbers flickering faintly across 
the tiled floor, sand dollars flowering in the former ticket 
booth. 

Beatrice gathering her skirt in one hand, they moved slowly 
down the line of cinemas, past cafes and amusement arcades, 
patronised now only by the molluscs and bivalves. At the 



THE DROWNED WORLD 



43 



first comer they turned away from the sounds of revelry 
coming from the other side of" the square, and walked west- 
wards down the dim dripping canyons. A few star-shells 
continued to explode overhead, the delicate glass sponges in the 
doorways glowing softly as they reflected the pink and blue 
light. 

" Coventry Street, Haymarket ..." Kerans read off the 
rusting street signs. They stepped quickly into a doorway as 
Strangman and his pack charged back across the square in a 
blaze of light and noise, machetes slashing at the rotting 
boards over the shop-fronts. 

" Let's hope they find something that satisfies them," 
Bodkin murmured. He searched the crowded skyline, as if 
looking for the deep black water that had once covered the 
buildings. 

For several hours they wandered like forlorn elegant ghosts 
through narrow streets, occasionally meeting one of the 
roistering crew, ambling drunkenly along the centre of the 
roadway with the remnants of some fading garment in one 
hand, a machete in the other. A few small fires had been 
started in the centre of the street junctions, little groups of 
two or three men warming themselves over the flaring tinder. 

Avoiding these, the trio blundered into a winding cul de sac, 
managed to step back in time as a large caiman lunged at 
them from a shallow pool. Darting between the rusting shells 
of cars, they regained the open street, the alligator racing 
behind them. It paused by a lamp post on the pavement edge, 
tail whipping slowly, jaws flexing, and Kerans pulled Beatrice 
by the arm. They broke into a run and had covered ten yards 
when Bodkin slipped and fell heavily into a bank of silt. 

" Alan ! Hurry !" Kerans started to go back for him, 
the caiman's head pivoting towards them. 

Suddenly there was a roar of gunfire, the flames stabbing 
across the roadway. Flares held above their heads, a group 
of men appeared around a corner. In front of them was the 
white-faced figure of Strangman, followed by the Admiral and 
Big Caesar, shot-guns at their shoulders. 

Strangman's eyes glittered in the flare light. He made a 
small bow towards Beatrice, then saluted Kerans. Its spine 
shattered, the alligator thrashed impotently in the gutter, 
revealing its yellow underbelly, and Big Caesar drew his 
machete and began to hack at its head. 



44 



Science Fiction Adventures 



Strangman watched it with evil pleasure. " Loathsome 
brute," he commented, then pulled from his pocket a huge 
rhinestone necklace, still encrusted with algae, and held it out 
to Beatrice. 

" For you, my dear." Deftly, he strung the strands around 
her neck, regarding the effect with pleasure. The entwined 
weeds among the sparkling stones against the white skin of her 
breast made her look like some naiad of the deep. " And all 
the other jewels of this dead sea." 

With a flourish he was off again, the flares vanishing in the 
darkness with the shouts of his men, leaving them alone in 
silence with the white jewels and the decapitated alligator. 

During the next days events proceeded to even greater 
madness. Completely disorientated, Kerans would wander 
alone through the dark streets at night — by day it became 
unbearably hot in the labyrinth of alleyways — unable to tear 
himself away from his memories of the old lagoon, yet at the 
same time locked fast to the empty streets and gutted buildings. 

The great sun beating in his mind almost drowned out the 
sounds of the looting and revelry, the roars of explosives and 
shotguns. Like a blind man he stumbled in and out of the 
old arcades and entrances, his white dinner suit stained and 
grimy, jeered at by sailors as they charged by him, playfully 
buffeting his shoulders. At midnight he would sit beside 
Strangman at his parties in the square, hiding back under the 
shadow of the paddle-ship, watching the dancing and listening 
to the beat of the drums and guitars, overlayed in his mind by 
the insistent pounding of the black sun. 

Bodkin had disappeared somewhere, presumably to the 
lagoons in the south, but always Beatrice would join Strang- 
man at his parties. She sat numbly beside him in her blue 
evening dress, her hair studded with half a dozen of the tiaras 
Strangman had looted from the old jewellery vaults, her 
breasts smothered under a mass of glittering chains and 
crescents, like a mad queen in a horror drama. 

Wilder now than Kerans had ever seen him, Strangman 
danced about the camp fires, sometimes forcing Kerans to join 
him, inciting the bongo drummers to ever faster rhythms. 
Then, exhausted, he would slump back on his divan, his thin 
white face like blue chalk. 

Leaning on one elbow, he stared sombrely at Kerans, 
squatting on a cushion behind him. 



THE DROWNED WORLD 



45 



" Do you know why they fear me, Kerans ? The Admiral, 
Big Caesar and the others. Let me tell you my secret." 
Then in a whisper: " Because they think I'm dead." 

In a spasm of laughter, he rocked back into the divan, 
shaking helplessly. " Oh, my God, Kerans. What's the 
matter with you two ? Come out of that trance." He looked 
up as Big Caesar approached. " Yes, what is it ? A special 
song for Doctor Kerans ? Capital ! Did you hear that, 
Doctor ? Let's go then, with The Ballad of Mistah Bones !" 

Clearing his throat, with much prancing and gesticulation, 
the big negro began, his voice deep and guttural. 
"Mistah Bones, he loves dried men, 
Got himself a banana girl; three prophets sly, 
She played him all crazy, drowned him in the snake wine, 
Never heard so many swamp birds, 
That old boss alligator. 

Rum Bones, he went skull fishing, 

Down off Angel Creek, where the dried men run, 

Took out his turtle stone, waited for the chapel boat, 

Three prophets landing, 

Some bad joss. 

Rum Bones, he saw the loving girl, 
Gave his turtle stone for two bananas, 
He had that banana girl like a hot mangrove; 
Prophets saw him, 

No dried men coming for Rum Bones. 

Rum Bones, he danced for that loving girl, 
Built a banana house for her loving bed " 

With a sudden shout, Strangman leapt from the divan, raced 
past Big Caesar into the centre of the square, pointing up at 
the perimeter wall of the lagoon high above them. Outlined 
against the setting sky was the small square figure of Dr. 
Bodkin, picking his way slowly across the wooden barrage that 
held back the creek waters outside. Unaware that he had 
been spotted by the party below, he carried a small wooden box 
in one hand, a faint light fizzing from a trailing wire. 

Wide awake, Strangman bellowed: " Admiral, Big Caesar, 
get him, he's got a bomb !" 



46 



Science Fiction Adventures 



In a wild scramble the party dissolved, everyone with the 
exception of Beatrice and Kerans raced off across the square. 
Shotguns slammed left and right, and Kerans saw Bodkin 
pause uncertainly, the fuse wire sparking about his legs. Then 
he turned and began to edge back along the barrage. 

Kerans jumped to his feet and ran after the others. As he 
reached the perimeter wall star-shells were bursting into the 
air, spitting magnesium fragments across the roadway. 
Strangman and the Admiral were leaping up a fire escape, 
Big Caesar's shotgun slamming out over their heads. Bodkin 
had left his bomb in the centre of the dam and was racing away 
over the rooftops. 

Straddling the final ledge, Strangman leapt up on to the 
barrage, in a dozen strides reached the bomb and kicked it 
out into the centre of the creek. As the splash died away a 
cheer of approval went up from those below. Catching his 
breath, Strangman buttoned his jacket, then slipped a short- 
barrelled .38 from his shoulder holster. Whipping on the cries 
of his followers, he set out after Bodkin as he scaled his way 
painfully up the pontoon of the testing station. 

Kerans listened numbly to the final shots, then walked 
slowly back to the square, where Beatrice still sat on her heap 
of cushions. As he reached her he heard the footsteps 
behind him slowing menacingly, a strange silence fall over the 
pack. 

He swung round to see Strangman saunter forward, a thin 
smirk on his face. Big Caesar and the Admiral were at his 
shoulder, their shotguns exchanged for machetes. The rest 
of the crew fanned out in a loose semi-circle. 

" That was rather stupid of Bodkin, don't you think, 
Doctor? Dangerous too, as a matter of fact. We could 
damn nearly have all been drowned." Strangman paused a 
few feet from Kerans, eyeing him moodily. " You knew 
Bodkin pretty well, I'm surprised you didn't anticipate that. 
I don't know whether I should take any more chances with 
mad biologists." 

He was about to gesture to Big Caesar when Beatrice jumped 
to her feet, rushed over to Strangman. 

" Strangman ! For heaven's sake, one's enough ! Stop 
it, we won't hurt you ! Look, you can have all these." 

With a wrench she unclasped the mass of necklaces, tore the 
tiaras from her hair and flung them at Strangman. Snarling 



THE DROWNED WORLD 



47 



with anger, Strangman kicked them into the gutter, and Big 
Caesar stepped past her, the machete swinging upward. 

Before Kerans could start to run something seized him from 
behind and pulled him backwards off balance. Recovering his 
foothold on the damp pavement, he heard Strangman shout in 
surprise and saw a group of brown-uniformed men step 
rapidly from the shadows, their rifles at their hips. At their 
head was the trim, brisk figure of Colonel Riggs. 

" Okay, Strangman, that will do very nicely." He rapped 
his baton across Big Caesar's chest and forced him back into 
the others. 

Kerans felt someone take his elbow. He looked round at 
the solicitous beak-like face of Corporal Macready, a sub- 
machine-gun in the crook of his arm. " You all right, sir ? 
Sorry to jerk you about like that. Looks as if you've been 
having a bit of a party here." 

By ten the next morning Riggs had stabilised the situation 
and was able to see Kerans informally. His headquarters were 
in the testing station, with a commanding view over the streets 
below, and particularly of the paddle-ship in the square. 
Stripped of their weapons, Strangman and his crew sat around 
in the shade under the hull, supervised by a light machine-gun 
manned by Macready and two of his men. 

" I guessed Strangman was here," Riggs explained. " One 
of our aerial patrols reported seeing the hydroplane and I 
reckoned you might have a little trouble with him if you were 
still hanging on. The pretext of trying to reclaim the testing 
station was a fair one." He sat on the edge of the desk, 
watching the helicopter circle the rooftops, occasionally diving 
into the open streets. " Pretty grim down there, isn't it. 
Damn shame about old Bodkin. He really should have come 
north with us." 

Kerans nodded, looking across the office at the machete 
scars freshly sliced into the woodwork around the door, part 
of the damage gratuitously inflicted on the furniture in the 
station after Bodkin's death. Most of the mess had been 
cleaned up, his body flown out to Riggs' tender in the next 
lagoon. " Why don't you arrest Strangman ?" he asked. 

" Because there's absolutely nothing I can hold him on. 
Legally, as he full well knows, he was absolutely entitled to 
defend himself against Bodkin, kill him if necessary. Remem- 
ber the Reclaimed Lands Act and the Dykes Maintenance 



48 



Science Fiction Adventures 



Regulations. I know Strangman's a nasty piece of work — 
with that white skin and his alligators — but strictly speaking 
he deserves a medal for pumping out the lagoon. If he 
complains I'll have a job explaining that machine-gun down 
there. Believe me, Robert, if I'd arrived five minutes later 
and found you chopped to bits Strangman could have claimed 
that you were an accomplice and I'd have been able to do 
nothing. He's a clever fellow." 
" What about the looting ?" 

Riggs shrugged. " Apart from a few trinkets filched from 
an old Woolworths he's taken nothing that couldn't be put 
down to natural exuberance on the part of his men. The only 
reason he's sitting quiet now is that he knows he's got the law 
on his side. If he hadn't there'd be a battle royal going on." 
He broke off, peering shrewdly at Kerans. " You look all in, 
Robert. Are you still getting these dreams 7" 

" Now and then." Kerans shuddered. " The last few days 
nave been insane here. It's difficult to describe Strangman — 
he's like a white devil out of a voodoo cult. I can't accept the 
idea that he'll go scot free. When are you going to re-flood 
the lagoon." 

" Re-flood the ?" Riggs repeated, shaking his head in 

bewilderment. " Robert, you really are out of touch. The 
sooner you get away from here the better. The last thing I 
intend to do is re-flood the lagoon. If anybody tries I'll 
personally blow his head off. Reclaiming land, particularly 
an urban area like this in a former capital city, is a Class Al 
priority. If Strangman is serious about pumping out the next 
two lagoons he'll not only get a free pardon but a governor 
generalship to boot." He looked down through the window. 
" Here he comes now, I wonder what's on his evil little mind." 



Kerans went over to Riggs, averting his eyes from the maze 
of festering yellow rooftops. " Colonel, you've got to flood 
it again, laws or no laws. Have you been down in those 
streets, they're obscene and hideous ! It's a nightmare world 
that's dead and finished, you're resurrecting a corpse ! After 
two or three days here you'll " 

Riggs swung away from the desk, cutting Kerans off. An 
element of impatience crept into his voice. I don't intend to 
stay here for three days," he snapped curtly. " Don't worry, 
I'm not suffering from any crazy obsession about these lagoons, 



THE DROWNED WORLD 



49 



flooded or otherwise. We're leaving first thing tomorrow, 
all of us." 

Puzzled, Kerans said: " But you can't leave, Colonel. 
Strangmen will still be here." 

" Of course he will. Do you think that paddle-boat has 
got wings ? There's no reason for him to leave, if he thinks he 
can take the big heat waves coming and the rainstorms. You 
never know, if he gets a few of these big buildings refrigerated 
he may be able to. But there's nothing for me to stay for— I 
can't move the station now, but it's a fair loss. Anyway, you 
and the Dahl girl need a rest. And a brain-lift. This time 
you're really coming with us." 

Kerans nodded, pulling himself together as a firm rap 
sounded on the door. 

" Yes, Colonel," he said carefully, " I'm coming with you." 



Chapter Eight 

Crouched down in a small office two floors above the 
barrage, Kerans listened to the music playing amid the lights 
on the top deck of the depot ship. Propelled by two junior 
members of the crew, the big paddles rotated slowly, their 
blades dividing the coloured lights and swinging them up 
across the sky. Seen from above, the white awnings resem- 
bled the marquee of a fairground, a brilliant focus of noise and 
activity in the darkened square. 

As a concession to Strangman, Riggs had joined him at this 
farewell party. A bargain had been struck between the two 
leaders ; earlier the machine-gun had been withdrawn and the 
lower level placed out of bounds to the Colonel's men. All 
day Strangman and his pack had roved the streets, and the 
random sounds of looting and firing echoed to and fro. Even 
now, as the Colonel and Beatrice Dahl climbed the fire escape 
up to the testing station, fighting had broken out on deck and 
bottles were being hurled down into the street. 

Kerans had put in a token appearance at the party, keeping 
well away from Strangman, who made no attempt to talk to 
him. Beatrice had also seemed subdued, apparently grappling 
with the psychic paradox that had blocked Kerans' brain the 
previous day. Now determined on the only solution avail- 
able, Kerans' own mind felt clear and co-ordinated again, 



50 



Science Fiction Adventures 



extending outwards beyond the perimeter of the drained 
lagoon. 

Only fifty miles to the south, the rain-clouds were packed 
together in tight layers, blotting out the swamps and archi- 
pelagoes of the horizon. Obscured by the events of the past 
days, the archaic sun in his mind beat again with immense 
power, its identity merging now with that of the real sun 
hidden behind the rain-clouds. Relentless and magnetic, it 
seemed to call him southward, to the great heat and the sub- 
merged lagoons of the Equator. 

Assisted by Riggs, Beatrice climbed up on to the roof of the 
building which also served as the helicopter landing stage. 
When the pilot started his engine and the rotors began to spin, 
Kerans quickly made his way down to the balcony which 
ringed the building two floors below. Separated by a hundred 
yards or so on either side, he was directly between the heli- 
copter and the barrage, the continuous terrace of the large 
office block linking the three points. 

Behind the building was an enormous bank of silt, reaching 
upwards out of the surrounding swamp to the railings of the 
terrace, on to which spilled a luxurious outcrop of vegetation. 
Ducking below the broad fronds of the fern-trees, he raced 
along to the barrage, fitted between the end of the building and 
the adjacent shoulder. The original inlet, once twenty yards 
wide and deep had shrunk to a narrow channel clogged with 
mud and fungi, its six-foot-wide mouth blocked by a rampart 
of heavy logs. Initially, once the rampart was removed, the 
rate of flow would be small, but as more and more of the silt 
was carried away the mouth would widen again. 

From a small cache below a loose flagstone he withdrew two 
square black boxes, each containing six sticks of dynamite 
lashed together. As the helicopter engine began to fire more 
loudly, the exhaust spitting brightly into the darkness, he lit 
the short 30-second fuse, straddled the rail and ran out towards 
the centre of the barrage. 

There he bent down and suspended the boxes from a small 
peg he had driven into the outer row of logs that afternoon. 
They hung safely out of view, about two feet from the water's 
edge. 

" Dr. Kerans ! Get away from there, sir !" 
He looked up to see Corporal Macready at the further end 
of the barrage, standing at the rail of the next roof. He leaned 



THE DROWNED WORLD 



51 



forward, suddenly spotting the flickering end of the fuse, then 
rapidly unslung his Thompson gun. 

Head down, Kerans raced back along the barrage, reached 
the terrace as Macready shouted again and then fired a short 
burst. The slugs tore at the railings, gouging out pieces of 
the stone, and Kerans fell as one struck his right leg just above 
the ankle. Pulling himself over the rail, he saw Macready 
shoulder the gun and jump down on to the barrage. 

" Macready ! Go back !" he shouted to the Corporal, who 
was loping across the wooden planks. " It's going to blow!" 

Backing away among the fronds, his voice lost in the roar of 
the helicopter as it carried out its take-off check, he helplessly 
watched Macready stop in the centre of the barrage and reach 
down to the boxes. 

" Twenty-eight, twenty-nine ..." Kerans concluded auto- 
matically to himself. Turning his back on the barrage, he 
limped away down the terrace, then threw himself on to the 
floor. 

As the tremendous roar of the explosion lifted up into the 
dark sky, the immense fountain of erupting foam and silt 
briefly illuminated the terrace, outlining Kerans' spread- 
eagled form. From an initial crescendo the noise seemed to 
mount in a continuous sustained rumble, the breaking thunder 
of the shock wave yielding to the low rush of the bursting 
cataract. Clods of silt and torn vegetation spattering on the 
tiles around him, Kerans stumbled to his feet and reached the 
rail. 

Widening as he watched, the water jetted down into the open 
streets below, carrying with it huge sections of the silt bank. 
There was a concerted rush to the deck of the depot-ship, a 
dozen arms pointing up at the water pouring out of the breach. 
It swilled into the square, only a few feet deep, blotting out the 
fires and splashing against the hull of the ship, still rocking 
slightly from the impact of the explosion. 

Then, abruptly, the lower section of the barrage fell forwards, 
a brace of a dozen twenty-foot logs going down together. The 
U-shaped saddle of silt behind capsized in turn, exposing the 
full bore of the inlet creek, and what appeared to be a gigantic 
cube of water fifty feet high tipped into the street below like a 
flopping piece of jelly. With a dull rumbling roar of collapsing 
buildings the sea poured in full flood. 

" Kerans !" 



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Science Fiction Adventures 



He turned as a shot whipped overhead, saw Riggs running 
forward from the landing stage, pistol in hand. His engine 
stalled, the pilot of the helicopter was helping Beatrice out of 
the cabin. 

The building was shaking under the impact of the torrent 
sweeping past its shoulder. Supporting his right leg with his 
hand, Kerans hobbled into the lee of the small tower which 
held his previous observation window. From his trouser belt 
he pulled a heavy .45 Colt, held the butt in both hands and 
fired twice around the corner at the approaching figure of 
Riggs. Both shots went wild, but Riggs stopped and backed 
off a few feet, taking cover behind a balustrade. 

Feet moved quickly towards him and he looked round as 
Beatrice raced along the terrace. Reaching the corner as 
Riggs and the pilot shouted after her she sank down on her 
knees beside Kerans. 

" Robert, you've got to leave! Now, before Riggs brings 
more of his men ! He wants to kill you, I know." 

Kerans nodded, getting to his feet. " The Corporal — I 
didn't realise he was patrolling." He took a last look at the 
lagoon, the black water surging across it through the buildings, 
level with the top line of their windows. Upended, its paddles 
stripped away, the depot-ship drifted slowly towards the far 
shore. Kerans watched it with pleasure, smelling the fresh 
tang that the water had brought again to the lagoon. 

" Robert ! Hurry !" Beatrice pulled his arm, glancing 
back over her shoulder at the darting figures of Riggs and the 
pilot only fifty yards away. " Darling, where are you going ? 
I'm sorry I can't be with you." . . 

" South," Kerans said softly, listening to the roar of the 
deepening water. " Towards the sun. You'll be with me, 
Bea." 

He embraced her, then tore himself from her arms and ran 
to the rear rail of the terrace, pushing back the heavy fern 
fronds. As he stepped down on to the silt bank Riggs and the 
pilot appeared round the corner and fired into the foliage, but 
Kerans ducked and ran away between the curving trunks, 
sinking up to his knees in the soft mud. 

The edge of the swamp had receded slightly, and he painfully 
dragged the bulky catamaran, home-made from four fifty- 
gallon drums arranged in parallel pairs, through the thick 



THE DROWNED WORLD 



53 



rasp- weeds to the water. Riggs and the pilot emerged through 
the ferns as he pushed off. 

While the outboard kicked into life he lay exhausted on the 
planking, the shots from Riggs' .38 cutting through the small 
triangular sail. Slowly the interval of water widened to a 
hundred and then two hundred yards, and he reached the first 
of the small islands that grew out of the swamp on the roofs of 
isolated buildings. Hidden by them, he sat up and reefed the 
sail, then looked back for the last time at the perimeter of the 
lagoon. 

Riggs and the pilot were no longer visible, but high up on the 
tower of the building he could see the lonely figure of Beatrice, 
waving slowly towards the swamp, changing tirelessly from 
one arm to the other although she was unable to distinguish 
him among the islands. Far to her right, rising up above the 
encompassing silt banks, were the other familiar landmarks he 
knew so well, even the green roof of the Ritz, fading into the 
haze. At last all he could see were the isolated letters of the 
giant slogan Strangman's men had painted, looming out of 
the darkness over the flat water like a concluding epitaph: 
TIME ZONE. 

The opposing flow of water slowed his progress, and fifteen 
minutes later, when the helicopter roared over, he had still 
not reached the edge of the swamp. Passing the top floor of a 
small building, he glided in through one of the windows, 
waited quietly as the aircraft roared up and down, machine- 
gunning the islands. 

When it left he pushed on again, within an hour finally 
navigated the exit waters of the swamp and entered the broad 
inland sea that would lead him to- the south. Large islands, 
several hundred yards in length, covered its surface, their 
vegetation crowding out into the water. Shipping the out- 
board, he set the small sail, made a steady two or three miles 
an hour tacking across the light southerly breeze. 

His leg had begun to stiffen below the knee, and he opened 
the small medical kit he had packed and washed the wound in a 
penicillin spray, then bandaged it tightly. Just before dawn, 
when the pain became unbearable, he took one of the morphine 
tablets and fell off into a loud, booming sleep, in which the 
great sun expanded until it filled the entire universe, the stars 
themselves jolted by each of its beats. 



54 



Science Fiction Adventures 



He woke at seven the next morning, lying back against the 
mast in bright sunlight, the medical kit open on his lap, the 
bows of the catamaran rammed lightly into a large fern-tree 
growing off the edge of a small island. A mile away, flying 
fifty feet above the water, the helicopter raced along, machine- 
gun fire flickering from its cabin at the islands below. Kerans 
shipped the mast and glided in under the tree, waiting until the 
helicopter left. Massaging his leg, but fearful of the mor- 
phine, he made a small meal of a bar of chocolate, the first of 
ten he had been able to collect. 

The aerial attacks were resumed at half-hour intervals, the 
aircraft once flying directly overhead. From his hiding place 
in one of the islands Kerans clearly saw Riggs looking out 
from the hatchway, his small jaw jutting fiercely. However, 
the machine-gun fire became more and more sporadic, and the 
flights were discontinued finally that afternoon. 

By then, at five o'clock, Kerans was almost completely 
exhausted. The noon temperature of a hundred and fifty 
degrees had drained the life out of him, and he lay limply under 
the moistened sail, letting the hot water drip down on to his 
chest and face, praying for the cooler air of the evening. The 
surface of the water turned to fire, so that the craft seemed 
suspended on a cloud of drifting flame. Pursued by strange 
visions, he paddled feebly with one hand. 

The next day, by good luck, as the storm-clouds moved 
overhead between himself and the sun, the air grew markedly 
cooler, falling to ninety-five degrees at noon. The massive 
black cumulus, only four or five hundred feet above, dimmed 
the air and he revived sufficiently to start the outboard and 
raise his speed to ten miles per hour. Circling between the 
islands, he moved on southwards, following the sun that 
pounded in his mind. Later that evening, as the rain-storms 
lashed down, he felt well enough to stand up on one leg by the 
mast, letting the torrential bursts rain across his chest, stripping 
away the ragged fabric of his jacket. When the first of the 
storm-belts moved off the visibility cleared, and he could see 
the southern edge of the sea, a line of tremendous silt banks 
over a hundred yards in height. In the spasmodic sunlight 
they glittered like fields of gold along the horizon, the jungle 
beyond rising above them. 

Half a mile from the shore the outboard ran dry, and he 
unbolted the motor and threw it into the water, paddling 



THE DROWNED WORLD 



55 



slowly against the head-breeze. Beaching the craft, he dis- 
mantled it and ported the sections up the enormous sludge- 
covered slopes, hoping for a southward extension of the 
waterway. Around him the great banks undulated for miles, 
the curving dunes dotted with cuttlefish and nautiloids. 

Finally he abandoned the craft and trudged on ahead with 
a small parcel of supplies, looking back from the next crest as 
the drums sank slowly below the surface. Carefully avoiding 
the quicksands in the hollows between the dunes, he moved on 
towards the jungle, the great horsetails and fern-trees reaching 
a hundred feet into the air. 



He rested again below a tree on the edge of the forest, 
carefully cleaning his pistol. Ahead of him he could hear the 
bats screech and dive among the dark trunks in the endless 
twilight world of the forest floor, the iguanas grunt and snarl. 
Cutting a branch off one of the trees, he hobbled forward into 
the shadows. 

By evening the rainfall started, slashing at the huge um- 
brellas a hundred feet above, the black light only broken when 
phosphorescent rivers of water broke and poured down on 
him. Frightened of resting for the night, he pressed on, 
shooting off the attacking iguanas, darting from the shelter of 
one massive tree-trunk to the next. 

For three days he pushed ahead sleeplessly through the 
forest, feeding on giant berries like clusters of apples, cutting 
a longer branch as a crutch. Now and then, to his left, he 
glimpsed the silver back of a a jungle river, its surface dancing 
in the rainstorms, but massive mangroves formed the banks 
and he was unable to reach it. 

Then, abruptly, he stepped out on to the shores of an 
immense lagoon, over a mile in diameter, ringed by a beach of 
white sand, through which protruded the top floors of a few 
ruined buildings, like beach chalets seen at a distance. In one 
of these he rested for a full day, trying to mend his ankle, 
which had become black and swollen. Looking out from the 
window at the disc of water, he watched the rain discharge 
itself into the surface with relentless fury; as the clouds moved 
away and the water smoothed into a glass sheet its colours 
seemed to recapitulate all the changes he had witnessed in his 
dreams. 



56 



Science Fiction Adventures 



That he had travelled over a hundred and fifty miles south- 
ward he could tell from the marked rise in temperature. Again 
the heat had become all-pervading, rising to a hundred and 
forty degrees, and he felt reluctant to leave the lagoon, with 
its empty beaches and quiet ring of jungle. 

At last he tied the crutch to his leg again, and with the butt 
of the empty .45 scratched on the wall below the window, 
almost sure that no-one would ever read the message: 

14th day. Have rested and am moving 
south. All is well. Kerans. 

So he left the lagoon and entered the jungle again, within a 
few days was completely lost, following the lagoons southward 
through the increasing heat, attacked by alligators and giant 
bats, a second Adam searching for the forgotten paradises of 
the reborn Sun. 

—J. G. Ballard 



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BLISS 



57 



The Ship was divided into three huge sections 
within which two separate factions had survived 
the long voyage through interstellar space — but 
they were separated by the impenetrable section 
known as " The Ruins ' . . . 



BLISS 

by DAVID ROME 



Chapter One 

On those secret evenings when Joann and I would huddle 
together in the ruins of the disused lowerdeck transmitter, 
I would often talk about my family — and Jack was always 
largest in my mind. I could never remember a time when I had 
bested him. At seven he was twisting my arm up my back and 
making me shriek like a girl; at twelve he was smooth-limbed 
and tall, smiling and lording it over me; and at twenty, in a 
fit of temper, he tossed a heavy book across the cabin one 
night and sent me staggering. 

Our cabin wasn't like the decaying lowerdeck nest where 
Joann's people lived. It was lavishly upperdeck, thickly 
carpeted and expensively furnished. Ion-gravity here was more 
efficient too. My father sat comfortably reading, knees crossed 
and body relaxed. 

He didn't look up when Jack threw the book, but mother 
came fussing in, a tiny woman with a dimple-soft mouth. 
Shaking her head, she didn't say anything. She stooped to pick 
up the book, but Jack snatched it away and crossed to the 
shelves. 



58 



Science Fiction Adventures 



He slotted it neatly into place, smilingly arrogant. His eyes 
moved to father, bland face complacent. 

Father had looked up sharply when mother bustled in. Now 
he turned to Jack, a tall man with dark, in-sucked cheeks. His 
lips were thin and pale, like a chalk line under big hooking 
nose. 

" Curb your enthusiasm," he said coldly. 

I laughed softly, and Jack snapped a glance at me, eyes 
flashing. 1 gestured obscenely at him — an upthrusting motion 
with the fingers that I'd learned from the lowerdeck people. 

His mouth — so like father's — went tight. He pivoted 
spotted a vase behind mother, lifted it and threw it hard and 
viciously, at chest height. I ducked aside and it shattered on 
the wall at my back; the pieces fell plopping into the carpet. 

There was a silence — and mother scurried forward, snatch- 
ing up the fragments as though their disappearance would 
lighten Jack's punishment. 

But Jack had no intention of being punished. He was stab- 
bing his fingers into the air, imitating my gesture. " He was 
doing this to me! He learnt it from the Plebs! " 

None of my family knew of my close contact with the lower- 
deck peoples, but my father was a member of the Presidium 
and mention of Pleb influence on his son was enough to heat 
him to violence. 

" Is this true?" said my father. 

The truth was already a flush in my cheeks. He stepped 
forward slowly, his eyes dark with fury. I felt a rush of nausea 
and swallowed desperately. " I didn't know what it meant — " 

" Myles — please! " Mother's hand was on his arm. 

For an instant father's eyes were close to mine, still black 
and smouldering. Then he gestured very obviously with his 
chin in the direction of my room, and mother bustled forward, 
anxious to get me out of his sight. 

" You thank your lucky stars," she said later. 

" My what? What are stars? " 

Her soft mouth was puckering. 

" Go to sleep, boy." 

" What are stars? " I persisted. 

"A saying, just a saying ..." 

And when she was gone I slept, dreaming. Somehow our 
ship crossed the unlit emptiness of space and reached Bliss 
during my generation; and the lowerdeck rose in revolt and 
the ruling Presidium was destroyed . . . 



BLISS 



59 



The next day there was to be a whipping and Removal in 
the Lower place, and father was up early, dressing in cere- 
monial black. 

While he was twisting and turning in front of the mirrors, 
mother hurried Jack and me into our robes and out of the 
cabin. Father would be practising with the whips, and this 
was something even Jack — almost adult — wasn't allowed 
to see. 

As we turned into the passagetube leading to the avenue, 
Jack swung on me. 

" The climb? " he said, smiling. " Or aren't you in the 
mood? " His eyes were on mine, his lips curling. 

I knew what he meant. For years now, Jack and I had 
shared a secret. At the end of our passagetube, no more than 
a yard from the avenue itself, there was a natural ladder — 
the corner of a window, the top of a door frame, another 
window, a crevice — and then the roof of the deck house. It 
was a dangerous climb and Jack knew I was afraid of it. 

Now, though, with the memory of our clash the night 
before fresh in my mind, there was a strange tightness in my 
throat. I said very softly, "I'm in the mood," and Jack saw 
this as the challenge it was, and his eyes sparked suddenly. 

Together, then already jostling for first place, we followed 
the passagetube until we reached the point where it broke 
out into the avenue. We looked across the wide street, but 
it was deserted. Jack was a second faster than I was. He turned 
back into the tube, gripped the ledge of the window with 
expert ease. His feet found a hold and he flowed upward. 
I followed. I was shorter and thinner, and the climb was hard 
going for me. Jack had reached the roof and was laughing 
down at me while I was still clawing my way past the second 
window. 

I looked up into his smooth, smiling face, and the hate 
surged inside me. Then it was gone and there was only deter- 
mination. I flexed my legs, groped with my fingers until I 
found the slight crevice that was the only aid to the summit 
at this point, and with one leg swinging dangerously over the 
thirty foot drop I literally flung myself at the roof. 

And somehow I got over the edge. I had to strain with my 
palms flat on the steel and the corner of the roof cutting into 
my chest, but I made it. I came to my feet, shaking, and 
together Jack and I looked along the tops of a dozen other 
houses, all exactly the same height, forming a pathway that 



60 



Science Fiction Adventures 



was only broken by the narrow passagetubes. 

"Someday," Jack breathed, "we'll go all the way down 
that pathway, Dom. Right into the heart of the Presidium. . ." 

1 nodded shortly, because I knew we didn't have much 
time. If we weren't at the Lower Place, mother would get to 
hear of it — and she would mention it to father. 

I tugged at Jack's robe — and regretted it instantly. He took 
it as a sign of weakness, and he dawdled down the side of 
the building after I had reached the deck again. He made a 
show of fear at the bottom, mimicking me, and I turned away 
from him, going off down the avenue. He walked just behind 
me for a while, repeating the act, but finally, when I didn't 
respond, he grew tired of this and he spurted a little, drawing 
level with me as we strolled together down the wide street, 
where the hydroponics were trimmed and neat, forming 
squares of colour in front of each deck house. 

It was quiet out here, with only a few people making their 
way in the direction of the companionway. Overhead, the 
sunlights were burning down as they always did during day- 
time, diffused by the vastness of the ship. 

None of us really knew how big the ship was. We knew that 
beyond the Pleb city where thousands lived now, and beyond 
the machine domes and the cultivated hydroponics, there 
were the Ruins — another city where other people had lived 
generations ago. But no one — not even members of the Presi- 
dium — ever went to the Ruins now. There were dangers — and 
stories of ghosts — there that none of us could understand. 

We had reached the companionway now, and the Power 
Room was below us. Jack and I dawdled down the steel steps 
and reached the lower level. And now, approaching the view- 
ports of the Power Room, we did a forbidden thing: we raised 
our eyes to the level of the ports, and looked in at the deserted 
bucket-seats and strange white dials. (Centuries ago the ancients 
of the ship had worshipped here — had paid homage to these 
instruments. Now the Presidium — Gods and Masters of the 
ship — forbade it. 

As we stared, footsteps sounded on the companionway 
above. Jack breathed a warning and we ran. We rounded the 
Power Room and the companionway to the lowerdeck was 
ahead. We took the first dozen steps at full tilt, then slowed 
down. Below us now was Pleb City. \ 



BLISS 



61 



Jack led the way down the companionway, his back arch- 
ing in excitement. Cold eyes touched us as our robes caught 
the momentary attention of the Plebs; but there were others 
from the upperdeck among them, and Jack and I threaded 
our way through the crowds until we reached those we knew. 

Jack was loud and cheerful, slapping backs and smiling 
at the girls. I stood a little apart, searching the Plebs for 
Joann's slim body and her copper coloured hair. But I 
couldn't see her, and after a while my eyes were drawn to the 
cleared circle of the Lower Place, where the single steel pillar 
rose into the sky. 

A man and a woman were out there — the man wearing 
upperdeck robes, the woman a Pleb. They were bound by the 
wrists, their legs spread wide and their bodies hugged close to 
each side of the pillar. Behind them was the Presidium stand, 
filling quickly. These men were bright-robed, hard eyes 
already feeding on the woman at the pillar. 

Now, as I stared at the captive man and woman, a dull 
rage was smouldering inside me. And mingled with the rage 
there was fear. Fear of my father's power, and fear of the 
Presidium he represented, because Joann had hinted one night 
that she thought an Informer had seen us together on the 
outskirts of Pleb City. And the Presidium forbade intimacy 
between upper and lower-deck peoples. 

As the thought came to my mind, my eyes were drawn 
upward to the companionway above the Lower Place. And 
there at its head was my father. He was descending with other 
Whippers, and as they approached the central pillar a silence 
settled over the crowd and a voice spoke out from the Presi- 
dium Stand: 

" This man and this woman ..." 

A pink-lipped upperdeck girl whispered loudly: "They 
bratted out of bounds ! " And she blushed and squirmed with 
pleasure at her own crudity. 

"... aware that our levels of society must be preserved . . . " 

The pink-lipped girl was nuzzling closer to Jack, lips part- 
ing sensually as she listened to the intonation. 

"... according to the dictates of our ancients, did wilfully 
commit copulation, and did in defiance of these laws permit 
conception to follow their act." 

The Whippers stepped forward. The crowd drew in breath, 
and were silent. The whipping would come first; then the 
Public Removal, and finally the ritual of Sterilization. 



62 



Science Fiction Adventures 



The man's back was bared now, and his robes hung in a 
puff round his hips. The woman had pressed closer to the 
piflar, her pale shoulders arched, thin body trembling. 

And now my eyes were fastened on my father, drawing his 
face closer; the cruel lips and cold, narrowed eyes. And soon 
— as the whip rose and fell — I found that my body was 
shaking and that Jack's cheeks were flushing with anger and 
shame as the others around us saw tears standing wet in 
my eyes . . . 

Chapter Two 

I don't know how long it was before a hand touched my 
arm. Jack had turned away violently, with an oath, and now 
the others had followed his lead. Then the hand, soft yet firm, 
touched my arm, and through the mask of blind hate for my 
father and Jack I saw dark eyes and pale face, and the hair, 
copper bright. 

Joann whispered quickly, " Come away, Dom! " and I 
glanced once at Jack, afraid he would see her. But the Public 
Removal had begun and his hard eyes were lusting, his hands 
clutching the girl with the pink lips to his side. 

I moved away silently, sliding through the crowd. Joann 
took my hand, almost running, and at last we were clear. 
I brushed one hand across my eyes, flushing now, because 
Joann had seen me crying like a child. The crowds were 
behind us; we were off down the street from the Lower Place. 
Here there were poky cabins in the cave-like Pleb buildings. 
The walkways were littered with refuse. 

Joann and I walked hand in hand, knowing we were safe 
in this part of the city. My upperdeck robes would attract 
attention, but no one would challenge my right to be here 
among the Plebs. The spirit had gone out of these people; 
only the upperdeck descendants of ancient captains were 
alive now. 

I turned to my right, leading Joann. Here the street widened, 
cutting out toward the hull of the ship. I knew where I was 
going. At the end of this street, almost buried under fallen 
steel cabins, was the derelict transmitter. Here we could sit 
together, absolutely hidden. 

By the time we had reached it, walking now alongside 
deserted and decaying buildings, I was brighter again, and 
my shame had diminished. I eased my way through the debris 



BLISS 



63 



to where the transmitter had once stood alone in a square 
surrounded by cabins, and I turned to help Joann to come 
through. 

Then, when her fingers were curling in mine, and her face 
was thrusting out of the gloomy tunnel of debris, she stopped 
abruptly. Her fingers tightened suddenly, then drew back. 
She raised her forefinger, pointing beyond me. Then, very 
slowly she came out of the tunnel. 

" Dom? " she said wonderingly. " Hasn't something 
changed? " 

I turned quickly, suddenly afraid. And in some indefinable 
way the transmitter did seem different, did seem changed. 

Then, going forward cautiously across fallen steel, I knew 
why. A great central beam, which had always lain half across 
the doorway of the transmitter, had been removed. Somehow 
it had contrived to shift itself from the doorway to the deck 
beside the transmitter. 

" Someone else? " said Joann nervously. " Meeting here, 
Dom? " 

I shook my head. I didn't know. I told Joann to stay 
where she was and I went forward — only two more paces — 
alone. Now I was directly outside the transmitter, looking in. 

There was no one inside. The transmitters, whatever they 
had been used for in the past — and though we knew the name 
of these boxes, we didn't know their purpose — hadn't been 
designed to accommodate more than one adult at a time. 
Joann and I, both slim, were just able to fit in. We sat side 
by side now, on the metal slab that wasn't steel or aluminium 
or any metal we knew. 

With an effort I said, " All right now? " 

But she wasn't — and neither was I. Someone else knew 
the secret of the transmitter — someone else had been here. 
Joann and I were awkward with each other, aware of the 
difference but not speaking it aloud. At nineteen we weren't 
lovers; but soon we would be. There was silence between us. 

Finally I said, " Will tonight be better? " 

We had come here to forget that whippings, removals and 
sterilization could exist. But it wasn't working. Joann shivered 
faintly, as though this place would be fearful when the city 
was asleep. 

I said gently, "Joann — " 

And a terrifying thing happened! 



64 



Science Fiction Adventures 



Joann melted! 

There is no other word for it. One instant we were together, 
and the next, Joann was gone. 

I felt her go — actually felt her oiling into nothingness. Then 
I was sitting in the booth, my arms still clasped ridiculously, 
my back pressed hard against the steel wall. 

And then, with a silent cry already tearing my throat, I was 
jammed against that wall until my ribs crackled, and an arm 
in rough-cloth robes was driving savagely into my face while 
a huge body writhed in liquid-steel motion, threatening to 
crush me. 

And I couldn't move. 

Couldn't breathe . . . 

I could hear a voice somewhere in the far distance, and I 
stirred. Now, as my eyes cleared, the speaker knelt beside 
me, a short, very thin man with hair like crayon streaks across 
his scalp. 

" Just rest a couple of minutes. Get your breath back," he 
said. Then he turned to another, taller, man at his side. " The 
Gid sent him through. He must have been near the trans- 
mitter." 

" Or in it," said the taller man. " But not on the hot-spot, 
like the girl, when we cleared the line. We should have known 
she wouldn't be alone." 

Mention of Joann sparked a reaction in me. I didn't know 
how long I'd been lying here, unconscious. But the tall man, 
seeing my concern, nodded at me. " She's okay." 

He was young — perhaps twenty-eight or nine — but he had 
an air of authority about him. He was tall, too; but there 
was a bigger man at his back. He saw me start, and he spoke 
again. Don't let him worry you. He's a Gid, boy. He's 
harmless." 

And now, very slowly, my fear was subsiding. Soon I 
began to ask wary, slow-phrased questions. 
Where is Joann? " 

They seemed to treat me less like a child now. The younger 
man said again, " She's okay." Then, and somehow his voice 
was harsher, he said, " What were you doing around the trans- 
mitter? " 

I said slowly, " Where am I? " but nobody answered my 
question. Instead, the younger man gestured to the Gid, and 
the huge body shuffled forward. A word I didn't catch passed 
between them; then I was lifted. The Gid carried me without 



BLISS 



65 



apparent effort, the others walking six-inches-smaller at his 
sides, and now I saw that there were no buildings here — just 
flat deck going off into a greenish-hazed distance. Behind us 
was the transmitter, set close to the curving steel wall of the 
hull. The wall arched upward until it was lost overhead; the 
sunlights were brighter, almost painful to the eyes. 



As I squinted, staring up into the sky, the taller man laughed 
softly and said, " Your sunlights were as powerful as these a 
century ago, but they're running down now — there'll soon be 
darkness forrard." 

Forrard. So I knew one thing — we were at the rear of the 
ship. And I thought I knew the purpose of the transmitters 
now. But where — where exactly — were we? Beyond the 
Ruins? Beyond the hydroponic farms? Were the giant Gids 
the ghosts that haunted the Ruins? 

" Darkness I was probing now, wanting to know 

more. " How can there be darkness forrard, and no darkness 
here? " 

Men and women were passing us at frequent intervals — Gids 
and others — but they didn't give us more than a cursory glance, 
until, quite suddenly, a man passing close caught sight of my 
upperdeck robes. He was a yard to one side of us, staring up 
at me; and suddenly he spoke my name: "Dominic Nicklaus! " 
His eyes were wide, incredulous. 

I swung my head around and met his stare. But I didn't 
recognize him. He was shortish, lean and grey-haired. He was 
familiar — yes, I had seen him somewhere before — but I 
couldn't go further than that. He was already speaking quickly 
to the two men with the Gid. and I thought, but wasn't sure, 
that I heard my father's name mentioned. 

Then this man I knew, but didn't know, spoke up to me 
again. " Your're in the right hands, Dominic. You'll be all 
right here." 

Then he was walking on — my questions were forgotten — 
and still I couldn't place him. Later I learned that there 
wasn't any particular reason why I should have been able to. 
He was from upperdeck — that was all. He knew my family 
and my name because he had been a member of an anti- 
Presidium group; it was well known in parts of the upper- 
deck that despite my father's position I had no love for the 
Presidium. 



66 



Science Fiction Adventures 



And now, as we walked on again, I noticed two things that 
had changed. Firstly, the landscape. Not flat any more, but 
broken by a low blister that had been invisible from any 
distance. It was from the side of this blister that men were 
coming and going. And secondly, the manner in which I was 
treated. The tall man spoke an order to the Gid, and instantly 
he set me on my feet; and the voices that spoke to me, though 
pleasant enough before, had real respect now, despite my age. 

And as we entered the blister, going into what I was to 
discover was their transport system, I suddenly knew — and it 
was an almost physical shock — that I was in the right hands. 

And for the first time in my life, with a sudden anticipation 
of action, I felt really alive. 



The transport system must have been primitive by Earth 
standards, but to me, with no previous experience of such 
marvels, it was almost frightening. 

We took our places in a tubular car, and I was strapped to 
an acceleration couch by the Gid. Slide doors closed, and the 
car began to move. 

As we drew away I saw a transmitter cubicle set inside the 
entrance to the blister; but it was in poor condition, obviously 
inoperable. So these people weren't magicians. There were 
some things they couldn't repair. 

As though he had been reading my thoughts, the tall man 
said, " This tube system once helped to join the whole ship 
together. The complement of the transmitters, you under- 
stand? We've got some of it back into order, but forrard it 
couldn't be done. The tube has collapsed; the entry blisters 
have caved in." 

I was going to ask about Joann again, but the car had 
increased its speed, and now the need for the acceleration 
couches was obvious. I was pressed into it by a giant hand. 
For minutes I was held there, unable to speak. Then the 
pressure lessened sharply. The car ran in under another blister 
and halted silently. 

" Joann? " I said, as I walked unsteadily beside them, 
leaving the car. 

" The girl? " said the smaller man. " She's in good hands." 
Then suddenly he stopped, taking my arm. We were just 
inside the blister. "Look, Dominic. There's one thing you 
have to know ..." 



BLISS 



67 



The taller man spoke. " Your way of life is over, Dom. 
You can never go back to it." 

He was holding my eyes; and suddenly I felt strange facing 
this tall man, obviously a leader, who was so grave. Did I 
want to go back? I couldn't be sure. All I knew was that 
excitement was stirring inside me. Whatever was going on, 
I wanted to be a part of it. There was movement here — 
action. Not lethargy and decay. 



Chapter Three 

They seemed to understand my silence. We moved out of 
the blister into the glaring sunlight, and here — I actually 
stumbled in amazement — here there were no open spaces. 
Buildings rose high on all sides, gleaming metal and glass 
constructions that seemed to be lost in a haze of distance 
overhead. 

I was staggered. I walked on, two more steps, and inexplic- 
ably the walkway was moving under my feet. We stood — 
merely stood — and we were carried along. 

" This was the third city," the smaller man was explaining, 
" abandoned generations ago when the first radiation from 
the Tube began to permeate the shielding." He pointed with 
one hand, half turning. " Back there is the wild hydroponic 
belt, and beyond that the Ruins. Closer, at the edge of our 
own hydroponic farms, are our machine domes. We've worked 
on them, restored them. We're getting full power now." 

" The Ruins were the second city," the taller man told me. 
" In the panic, when people were dying, that was abandoned 
too. Now the radiation has dissipated; we've rebuilt City 
Three — rebuilt it over half a millennium — and now, very soon, 
our forces will be ready ..." 

We had entered a building. The giant Gid had gone his 
own way. Rapt, I hadn't even noticed the distance we had 
covered. Now, as we stepped on to an oval platform that 
carried us upward, the tall man said, " Do the Plebs hate the 
Presidium, Dominic? " 

I couldn't see the point behind the question. The oval plat- 
form halted silently at a higher level and we stepped off. I 
said slowly, " Hate . . . ? No, I don't think so. They would 
hate, perhaps, if they had the life left in them to do it. But 
their apathy — " 



68 



Science Fiction Adventures 



The tall man was suddenly alive. His eyes flashed. " That's 
our problem, Dom. I want you to understand it. We send 
out the Gids through the transmitters, and they bring us Plebs. 
But it isn't violation, Dom! Understand that. The hate is 
there — the revolt is already in them. But we have to bring 
them here — waken them up, Dom — before they can recognize 
it!" 

We were walking down a passageway with carpet under- 
foot. 1 said slowly, " My father is a member of the Presidium 
..." And in my mind I was hearing one word over and 
again: " Revolt." Was it possible? Another race, living here 
at the stern of the ship, planning the destruction of a body that 
had ruled the ship since the beginning of time? 

And the Gids? Who were the Gids? 

" We know about your father — " 

Suddenly I was remembering my dream — years ago? The 
Plebs in revolt, the Presidium destroyed. I said softly, " Who 
are you? " 

The tall man said quietly, " There were groups, Dom. Anti- 
Presidium groups. Some of them were upperdeck, some 
lower — and they overcame the apathy, Dom. Years ago 
now — I was born in City Three — the groups united, broke 
away from the rule of the Presidium. They came here, know- 
ing somehow that the radiation would no longer be lethal. 
They found the Gids — men who had survived and mutated — 
had become immune. Radiation hadn't killed them. They 
were a new race." 

We had stopped now, and the tall man's hand was lifting to 
open a door. The rest was a matter of time, Dom. Machines 
were repaired, the city rebuilt. We found medical supplies, 
abandoned years before. We sent men into Pleb City, where 
the machines were running down and the sunlights were slowly 
dying out, and we were able to repair some of the transmitters. 
Now the Gids go out regularly to bring us Plebs. We've been 
building, Dom — a city, and a force. A new people, united in 
purpose: to overthrow the Presidium." 

The door opened then — and suddenly Joann was there, 
turning quickly as I stood for a moment, unmoving in the 
doorway. 

" Dominic! " 

And we were together again. When I turned, as a quiet 
sound caught my attention, I saw that the door had closed and 
that Joann and I were alone. 



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I spoke her name, and she said quickly, " Sit down, Dom 
. . . . " She was nervous, was close to tears. 

I just stared at her. Then I said awkwardly, " Are you all 
right" 

It was crazy. We were like strangers. We sat down and 
talked, and I tried to calm her. I told her where we were, and 
how City Three had begun; and she was silent for a long time 
after that. Then, very slowly, she got to her feet, and her eyes 
were still troubled. 

" I was left here alone," she said. " I was able to look round 
this room ..." She was crossing to a screen that was like 
a square white eye in the wall. 

"I moved a switch, Dom ..." 

Her hand reached out. She touched a switch — and suddenly 
I was afraid. Then she pressed lightly, the switch clicked 
down, the screen changed. 

A silent cry welled in my throat. I half rose, and fell back. 
The brightness that glared from the screen seemed to whirl 
around me in that room. I clawed at my eyes, twisting away 
from the pain of it — and then, abruptly, the door opened at 
our backs. The tall man stepped quickly past us, flicked the 
switch up — and the screen became blank. 

" You take that in small doses," he said. 

I tried to speak, but my throat had constricted. The tall 
man was standing with his back to the screen, watching us 
now. When he spoke, his voice was soft and concerned. " I'm 
sorry about this ..." 

" What is it? " said Joann. 

He said slowly, "There's no word for it that you could 
understand. It is space, and yet not space as you know it. We 
call it the Universe." 

" Space? " The panic was ebbing now. I said softly, " Space 
is nothingness. Space contains Earth and Bliss — there is 
nothing between." 

" No." The tall man was shaking his head. 

" Space is — " 

" No, Dom. Space is what you saw on the screen." 

There was a desk in that room, and the tall man sat down. 
He looked at Joann, then at me. "I'm not asking you to 
accept it — I'm not even expecting you to. Not for a while. 
But I'll tell you this — and you can listen. Not with belief, or 



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disbelief, just with an open mind." He leaned back in his 
chair. 

" Somehow — at some time in the past — the vision screens " 
— and here he gestured at the square eye — " were overlooked; 
were forgotten, as the true purpose of the Power Room was 
forgotten. A failure, perhaps, that was never repaired. Now 
we've put this right at this end of the ship. We can use the 
screens for their original purpose — to let us see into space! " 

He said softly, " Space isn't empty. Space isn't the void 
you think it is. Space is jam-packed with ' stars ' and 
' planets ' " — and now his voice was very quiet and he wasn't 
looking at Joann. Only at me. "Bliss isn't a world, Dom. 
Can you understand that? Bliss is only a name; and out there, 
out in the Universe, there are hundreds of worlds we could 
land on; hundreds of worlds we could colonize." 

Then his voice rose, and he finished with such emphasis 
that I knew — somehow I was sure — that this man was speak- 
ing the truth. 

The Power Room doesn't house pagan gods! It's a con- 
trol-centre! It's our means of setting the ship down — of 
landing her, Dom! " 

After the first few days of walking around City Three — we 
stayed together but somehow our relationship was changed — 
there wasn't much Joann or I could do. We were taken back 
to the wide, flat deck where the distance was green haze, and 
we were told to walk here each day. Just walk. This was how 
they combatted lethargy; strolling alone or in groups for 
hours each day. 

It was a rule that couldn't be broken. Even the Gids, with 
their shambling gait, were ordered to take the exercise. 

On these occasions, when we were tired of walking, Joann 
and I would sit together, trying always to put our friendship 
back on its old footing. 

Sometimes Joann's eyes would wander toward the trans- 
mitter cubicle through which we'd come; and once I asked 
her, " Are you happy here? " 

She didn't answer immediately, but after a while she began 
to talk about her family, and I was surprised to find that there 
had been some degree of closeness between them. This was 
something almost unknown, even on upperdeck. 

At other times — when we were approached by the curious — 
we would ask questions about City Three, and I learned among 



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other things that the Tube, from which radiation had seeped 
years ago, was the connection between the habitable part of 
the ship and the Pile that would push the ship through space 
forever, providing endless power for the machine domes. The 
leak in the shielding had been sealed by the Gids, and now 
there was no danger. 



After a week of this, I began to notice a change in Joann. 
Before, she had been moderately bright, answering my ques- 
tions readily, smiling often, though with a strange, sad fear in 
her eyes. Now, as the days passed, and the plan to invade the 
forward section of the ship rolled on, she became withdrawn 
and uncommunicative. When we passed men with weapons 
in their hands her lips would quirk angrily, dark eyes snapping. 

She even tried to get into the transmitter one afternoon, but 
a woman, walking nearby, spotted her in time and was able to 
pull her back. 

After that — while I was caught up in the invasion training — 
a woman was detailed to watch Joann whenever she was in 
the transmitter area. Joann's face became stony, and she 
refused to speak to me if I walked at her side. 

She only broke this silence once in the final days. It was 
early morning and I had followed her out from City Three. 
I caught up with her as she strode along in cold rage, and she 
turned on me quickly, almost in tears, and said, " Why are 
there so many weapons? So many men? " 

As calmly as I could, I told her what Brightan, the tall 
leader, had said. That he didn't want fighting; that the only 
way to avoid this was to go in with a great number of armed 
men. 

" The Plebs won't be touched, Jo." 

She turned away, white-faced, and if I'd known what was 
going to happen, what was lying in store for both of us, I 
would have gone after her then, and stayed with her until her 
mood was over. 

But I didn't. The invasion would be beginning in a matter 
of hours; we were to advance through the hydroponics and 
the Ruins, striking at the Presidium in a rush from the Pleb 
city. 

The Plebs wouldn't resist — I knew that But to gain control 
of the Power Room and land the ship on the closest world 
we would have to meet upperdeck weapons. Whatever 



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Brightan said, there was going to be fighting; and I was eager 
— was actually impatient — for it to begin. 

I didn't even glance at Joann after she turned away. I 
made my way back to the blister, almost at a run, and 
rode the car into City Three. 

I'd been given a room of my own, high up in one of the 
buildings, and here I stripped off my robes, stepped naked 
into the shower cubicle and turned on the cold water. For 
five minutes I let the needle sprays hammer down on my 
body, then I stepped out, turning off the water. I rubbed 
myself dry — and now my body was glowing — got out the 
green-and-grey uniform that had been issued to the invading 
force and put it on. In the loose-fitting fighting garb I felt 
hard and tough. I had filled out in the last few weeks, and I 
was heavier now, and tall. Walking each day had toughened 
my body and relaxed my mind. 

As I tightened the fastenings of my rubber-soled boots, I 
thought for a moment of Jack, and it was in pity, not in 
anger. I was tougher than Jack; tougher than my father. If we 
fought, I would win. 

And now, already dressed like a soldier, I picked up my 
rifle and balanced it in my hands, an ancient weapon 
Brightan had said, but an effective one. Then I began load- 
ing the metal shells into the magazine, as we'd been tought in 
hard nights of training. 

I should have known then, with the weapon in my hands, 
that this equipment was for something more than overcoming 
the rule of the Presidium. But had I known — and had the 
Plebs who had joined us known — what was waiting for us in 
the ruins of Second City, we would have stripped off our 
uniforms and stayed where we were, and the ship, under the 
Presidium rule, could have plunged on for ever toward Bliss. 

Which was precisely why Brightan hadn't told us. 

Chapter Four 

It wasn't until late afternoon that I discovered Joann had 
disappeared. The city was at fever pitch, the streets and walk- 
ways alive with uniformed men. All day, through the audio 
system, Brightan and the other leaders had been giving us 
our marshalling instructions. 

While the main body pushed in through the Ruins, flank- 
ing movement would be carried out by means of the operable 



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transmitters. The three fingers of the attacking force would 
be in contact with one another, and the two small groups 
going through the transmitters would angle in at an order 
from the central commander, forming a tripod thrust at any 
upperdeck resistance. 

And now, with these instructions ringing in my ears, I 
suddenly knew that I had to see Joann before I left. It was as 
though I had already glimpsed something deeper and more 
dangerous ahead of us that night, and as I hurried out into 
the street I realized for the first time that I was afraid. 

I got on to a crowded walkway, which failed because of 
its load before it had gone more than a dozen yards. We all 
stood for a while, just waiting stupidly for the thing to start 
moving again, but it never did. After a while I got off and 
ran the two blocks down the static pavement to Joann's 
apartment. 

She had been allotted a room in a building for single girls, 
and most of the rooms were empty and unfurnished. The 
whole place rang emptily as I rode the vator to an upper 
floor and hurried down the passageway. When I reached 
Joann's door I knocked once and went straight in. But she 
wasn't there. 

It wasn't really a surprise. All the way up on the vator I'd 
been telling myself that she might be out walking somewhere. 
But now, as I stood in that empty apartment, I felt the first 
inexplicable chill of unease. 

Something was wrong. I could feel it. 

I walked through into the bedroom, on my toes now, for 
no reason. I touched the contour couch with the palm of my 
hand, bouncing it, then I turned to the mirror and the array 
of accessories on the tiny metal shelf. Nothing here. 

I returned to the central room, looking around carefully 
now. And as soon as my eyes touched the little table with its 
display of flowering ponies I saw the note . . . 

I picked it up. And read it : 

I'm sorry, Dom, but this isn't my home . . . 

Anger welled inside me. The fool! There was only one 
way she oould get home — the transmitters were barred to 
her — and that was through the wild hydroponics and the 
Ruins! 

And suddenly I was afraid for her. I couldn't help myself. 
Joann was a child. Just a child. Now, somewhere out there, 
armed with nothing more than a torch, she was running 



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through the dying afternoon, struggling through the ponies. 
By dark she would be among the Ruins. 

The old superstitious fear of the Ruins still clung to me. 
Even as I spun around, almost running to the door — and 
actually running once I got into the passageway — I was 
drawing phantom shapes in my mind. 

But I think this spurred me on rather than checked me. I 
rode downward on the vator, and for the first time the 
oval disc seemed nightmarishly slow. When I reached street- 
level I turned in the direction of the closest transport dome 
without an instant's hesitation. 

Running toward the blister, I never considered the rights 
or the wrongs of what I was doing. I suppose I was deserting 
Brightan, but I never thought of it in that way. I 
merely realized — and the realization had shocked me into 
action — that Joann still meant a great deal to me. 



I didn't even look back at the city as I got off the tube car 
on the fringe of the hydroponic farms. I was hoping that 
Joann hadn't taken the car — that she had followed the walk- 
ways on foot and hadn't got too far ahead. I wondered if any 
of the leathery-skinned farmgirls on the car would report 
that I'd made off into the ponies. I didn't think so. They 
weren't given to thinking, and in any case it was common 
enough for soldiers to be sent on scouting missions alone. 

I was off the pathway now, walking in ankle deep growth. 
Over to my right, small with distance, were the white machine 
domes. My evertorch was swinging from my belt, but looking 
up at the sunlights I judged that I wouldn't need it for 
another few hours. 

And now, as I began to push my way into the deeper tangle 
of wild ponies, I put everything out of my mind that wasn't 
concerned with finding Joann. I moved as rapidly as I could, 
using the parallel rows of sunlights overhead to keep myself 
oriented. The ponies were papery and brittle — breaking a 
passage through them wasn't difficult. Often I stopped, 
remaining perfectly still for a full minute at a time, listening 
for Joann. And once, after two hours, with the sweat running 
down my body and thighs, I stood stock still, caught for an 
instant in momentary indecision. What kind of a fool was 
I? What hope was there of finding her here in a seven-mile 
wilderness? 



BLISS 



75 



But no, with the sunlights already beginning to die and 
and four of those seven miles behind me, there was nothing I 
could do but go on. I had to reach the Ruins before dark, and 
now, conversely, I was hoping that Joann was well ahead; 
that she would be clear of the hydroponics and into the Ruins 
before nightfall. 

In the final hour of daylight, racing against time now, I 
covered what must have been almost three miles. When I was 
at last forced to turn on my torch, I could already see the 
crumbling outline of the Ruins against the dying lights; and 
before the darkness was complete, I was picking my way 
through the overgrown debris of what had once been living- 
cabins. 

It was very quiet here as the night settled down, and the 
torch beam, cutting its white path through the blackness, 
seemed brittle and cold. Not like a light at all. 

I was walking very slowly now, listening for sounds of 
Joann. On either side, seemingly ready to topple, were build- 
ing with socket eyes watching. The whole place had a smell 
of decay and the narrow streets were often blocked by debris. 
Twice I had to retrace my steps, following the tunnels of 
darkness around whole buildings that had sunk inward, 
thrusting jagged steel hands across my path. 

Now, with the torchlight shining straight ahead, I was on 
a wider, clearer road that seemed to run in the right direc- 
tion. I called Joann's name, twice, then I moved forward — 
and now, for a reason I couldn't explain, I was carrying my 
rifle just a shade higher. I still held it in one hand, and I 
wouldn't admit even to myself that I was afraid. But the 
ghosts of the Ruins were doing their work well. I was breath- 
ing faster, walking slower. 

"Joannnn! " 

No answer. Only the empty voice echoing in empty build- 
ings. I walked on. Three more steps. Then : 
"Joannnn! " 

And this time — faintly, very faintly, from somewhere off 
to my left — I thought I heard an answering cry. 

I whirled, torchlight flashing. I shouted again, but there 
was no answer; and now I began to run, breaking through 
ponic growth that had somehow penetrated this far, scramb- 
ling on hands and knees over high-piled debris. 



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I can't describe the sound I heard as I entered that final 
street. Perhaps a shuffle. I flashed the torch eagerly, and a 
corner of light caught movement. Joann's name was in my 
throat before I realized that it wasn't Joann. 

Above me now — startlingly clear — I could hear her calling 
my name. Above me! Not here in this street. 

Very slowly, with a fist of fear closing huge in my stomach, 
I swept the torch beam along the crooked steel sides of the 
buildings. Very slowly, with my feet groping blindly amongst 
refuse and my weapon at the ready, I advanced down the 
street. 

To my right now was the entrance to the building where 
Joann must be. It was almost blocked. To get through into 
the building I would have to turn my back on the street and 
wriggle through, face-down, blind and helpless for the sixty 
seconds it would take me to get over the debris. 

Did I have the courage? Whatever had moved in the street 
was large, I knew that. I thought of animals from the ponies 
— there were stories of such things in Pleb folklore; and then 
I heard Joann call my name again, and there was empty fear 
in her voice. The fear of a person without hope. Somehow 
it affected me more than the unknown quantity that hung 
back on the edge of darkness. Joann was calling my name 
endlessly, without reason or purpose. Numbly I realized that 
she didn't even know I was here in this street. 

I had to get to her, and there was only one way to do it. 
I began to back toward the entrance and for an instant the 
torch beam wavered. Immediately, there was a stir of move- 
ment to my right. I flashed the torch in that direction — and 
now I was against the debris, stumbling. Now I would have 
to turn, climb, expose myself. I moved the torch a fraction 
more to the right. 

My scream was soundless, but it tore my throat. I fired, the 
weapon kicking in my hands. I fired three times and the 
huge figure stumbled forward into the torchlight, bellowing 
and thrashing as it fell at my feet. 

I whirled, flung myself at the pile of debris, kicking with 
my feet and working, working, with my elbows. And some- 
how I got through. I still had the rifle and the torch. It was 
swinging wildly on my belt now as I came to my feet. 

As I turned in a slow circle I saw that the windows here 
were blocked by huge steel shutters, and the debris at the 



BLISS 



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entrance was packed solid. There was only room for a slim 
man or boy to squirm through between the top of the door- 
way and the rubble. 

I moved across the ground floor, threading my way 
cautiously through the strange conical shapes that littered 
the vast room. I could still hear Joann calling my name from 
somewhere overhead, but I knew it would be useless to 
answer her. 

I only paused once in that slow advance toward what must 
be a companionway ahead, and that was when the light from 
my torch brushed a wall of the building and shone for a 
moment on one of the cones. I stopped, turning the light on 
to it, and instantly I became aware of a peculiar rustling 
noise that continued until I swung the light away. 

Around me now, as I moved on, other rustlings began; but 
I continued toward the companionway, picking out the steel 
steps with my torch and climbing quickly upward now, not 
stopping to account for the strange sounds. 

The companionway seemed to go on for ever, but finally, 
with the breath burning in my throat, I reached the higher 
floor. I ran along the passageway, sent the torch beam prob- 
ing into first one room, then another; and at my third try 
I found Joann. 

Chapter Five 

I talked to her softly, urgently, for long minutes before she 
could begin to understand that I really was here with her; 
but when the realization finally came she recovered quickly. 
She clasped my hands, drew me closer, and spoke my name 
with meaning. 

I let her cry after that, just kneeling beside her while she 
quivered in my arms; and she was calmer after a few 
moments, and she drew away from me a little, as though 
angry with herself. But she didn't say anything about her 
break from City Three. Instead, she looked at me closely, 
and with a trace of fear in her voice asked, " Did you see 
them? " 

"I think I killed one," I said. 

" Killed? " 

I told her then how I had shot at the huge figure in the 
street outside; how it had fallen, thrashing in agony. When I 
finished, Joann stared at me in a way I couldn't understand. 



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" The cones. Dom? Haven't you seen them? " 

With a stir of uneasiness I remembered the rustling sound 
that had accompanied my passage across the vast floor 
below. 

" Cones? They are lifeless, Joann." 

She said softly, " It was still light when I came here. I was 
afraid — perhaps of the ghosts in the Ruins — and I found this 
building with its shutters and its safety." 

" The Giants—" I began. 

" I haven't seen them. I saw the cones. They came here at 
dusk. I heard the noise, and I went downstairs, and they were 
inside the building. They weren't cones at first; they were 
taller, almost like plants. They folded, became motionless as 
it got dark." 

With an effort I sought to hold on to reality. "The entrance 
is blocked — " 
" I know, Dom. But they came in." 
" How? " 

She was shaking her head. " I don't know — " And 
suddenly, in that room, I knew why Brightan had waited so 
long — why so many men had been marshalled for the attack. 
Brightan knew. Brightan and the others — the leaders — knew 
that there were strange forces to be overcome in the Ruins. 
Mutants, like the Gids? They had to be mutants. Living here 
in the rubble of Second City. 

The ship wouldn't be won until the Ruins were cleared. 
Brightan knew that. And now, like a spark breathed upon, 
there was a glimmer of hope. How long would it be before 
Brightan and his men came thrusting into the Ruins? 

Joann spoke again now. "When they were coming in, 
Dom, they seemed to rise — to grow — through the floor." 

I was staring at her, considering this, when the noise began 
outside. A steady, rhythmic, bloom! bloom! against the wall 
of the building. 

I was on my feet already in reflex action, my thoughts 
leaping back to Brightan. I swung toward the source of the 
noise, found it, and ran forward out of the room, Joann at 
my back, her own torch flashing now. 

Outside in the passageway there were windows that looked 
down from height on to the street. Once this place had been 
some kind of storeroom — the vast floor below protected from 
looters by the shutters. Up here there had been offices; the 
windows were uncovered. 



BLISS 



79 



Now Joann and I reached the windows, and I shone my 
torch downward but saw nothing. I ran it along to the left, 
fruitlessly, then to the right. And this time, in the white 
light, we saw a heaving steel beam — saw the obscene figures 
and giant, muscled arms that thrust and battered it against 
the side of the building. 

I killed the light, caught Joann's arm and dragged her away 
from the windows. The whole building seemed to be vibrating 
now, and I knew that the wall wouldn't stand against the ram 
for long. 

My fear had communicated itself to Joann now, and almost 
at a run, stumbling in the darkness, we somehow got down 
the companionway to the ground floor. We didn't switch on 
our torches — we seemed to know instinctively that the Cones 
would react to the light. Already the rustling was beginning 
again, as though they were stirring. 

I checked Joann with a hand on her wrist; then I went 
forward alone. Now I did turn on my torch, but I smothered 
the beam with my hand so that it came out weakly red. I 
held the spot of light a foot in front of me, following it 
carefully as it picked out the path through the Cones. 

Ahead now, a dozen paces away, was the entrance. I 
turned off the torch when I reached it. By touch, forcing 
myself higher an inch at a time, I worked my way up the 
slope of the rubble. When I judged I was near the top, I 
groped under my body for the torch on its belt strap, 
dragging it free. I turned it on, shining the beam through my 
finger. When I had positioned myself at the gap so that no 
light would get back into storeroom, I drew my hand away 
and let the white light flare out into the darkness. 

Instantly, there was writhing movement and I glimpsed 
the giant shapes for a moment. They retreated to the edge of 
the fight, stirring there in jagged shadows. I cut off the light. 

I retreated, sliding down the rubble, still shielding the 
torch. There would be no way out here. 

As I picked my way toward the place where I had left 
Joann there was a different note to the sound of the battering 
ram against the wall. The wall was weakening. Soon the ram 
would smash its way through and the Giants would swarm 
in. 

I almost ran those last interminable yards; and when I did 
reach the companionway at last, Joann was gone. The shock 



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stopped me dead. My hand slipped off the torch and the light 
flashed suddenly bright across the floor of the store. I saw 
Joann then — she was half-turned, staring at me. She had 
picked her way across the floor with her own torch shielded. 
There was a dozen yards between us now. 

And at the same moment, close behind me, there was a 
movement. I whirled, and the torch was still on. It spot- 
lighted the Cone that had begun to move, glistening on the 
side of the thing. The combination of the light and sound was 
disturbing them, bringing them awake. Now, around the first, 
there were others coming alive, wavering from side to side as 
they lost their conical shapes and became plantlike — 
grotesque. 

I switched off the torch, and at the instant when darkness 
slammed in, the Giants broke through the wall of the store. 
I heard the thundering crash of falling steel, then the cries of 
triumph as they leapt through the breach. 

I whirled and ran. I heard Joann screaming and I ran in 
her direction. I blundered head on into a softly vegetable 
Cone, toppling it over. Even as I recoiled there was a roar of 
sound behind me and a flare of light. Flames burst upward 
and heat exploded across the room. Instantly the place was 
filled with a gagging odour and I turned, saw huge figures in 
the shadows at the edge of the fire. Then a second Cone 
caught alight — and now I knew that the Giants were attack- 
ing them. I could see Joann clearly as I ran again. I reached 
her and she seized my arm, pointing. 

" Look ! Down there, Dom ! " 

There was a hole in the floor of the storeroom, going down 
into blackness. And now I remembered how Joann had said 
that the Cones seemed to rise from the floor. Was this their 
way in? 

The question was soon answered. Already there was a 
score of them lumbering towards us — toward their escape 
route. This was war. The Giants hadn't broken in to get at 
us; they were intent on destroying the Cones. The Giants 
were night creatures. Did the Cones hunt by day? Was this 
some terrible revenge on the sleeping animal-plants for a 
scourge they inflicted during the hours when the Giants 
slept? 

But now, with two more of the creatures on fire, and still 
more of them making in our direction, there were only 
seconds left in which to make a decision. 



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A group of Cones — helpless when darkness fell — had 
chosen this sealed storeroom in which to conceal themselves. 
Now, for Joann and me, there were only two ways out: 
through the hole that the Giants had torn in the wall, or 
down into the pit. 

Hesitating only for an instant, I seized Joann's arm, 
flashed the torch downward and saw the bottom of the pit 
no more than ten feet below us. Then we jumped. We struck 
the steel floor almost together, rolled, and I came to my feet. 
Flashing the light in all directions, 1 saw that this place had 
once been part of the ship's transport system. The roof above 
the tunnel had fallen in, and there was an abandoned tubecar 
down here, crushed by the weight of debris that had fallen 
long ago. To our left, though, there was a clear length of 
tunnel, and I helped Joann to her feet, even as the first of the 
Cones reached the edge of the hole over our heads. 

As we sprang clear the thing let itself fall, and another 
followed. I fired twice, then Joann and I backed away. The 
Cones were moving in our direction and now I could see their 
true form as they closed the distance between us with fright- 
ening speed. They seemed unaware of us, but when we turned 
and broke in to a run they increased their pace. I thought the 
light might be attracting them, but we couldn't move at speed 
without it. I tried flicking it off at intervals, picking a clear 
path for us beforehand. But this slowed us down, and the 
Cones gained precious yards. I fired at them again, the 
bullets whining along the tunnel; but two or three direct hits 
were needed to bring a Cone down. While I was stopping four 
of them a dozen advanced to within yards of us. 

We ran again. The tunnel seemed to go on for ever. There 
were no branches to right or left. We tried a short, hard 
sprint to get well ahead of the Cones, but they didn't 
slacken their speed and we tired too quickly. 



Joann was already stumbling, and I had to hold her, help- 
ing her along. There was fire in my lungs and throat, and I 
was drawing the stale air into my chest with tremendous, 
convulsive gasps. There were no faults in the tunnel wall — 
no cracks or crevices wide enough to take our bodies. We 
were both slowing down now, and ahead the air would be 
worse. Already, in the terrifying closeness of the tunnel, my 



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vision was beginning to blur as the pressure of blood built up 
behind my eyes. 

We had to stop. If we went on we would suffocate. I 
swung Joann around, almost throwing her off her feet. She 
fought me, panic-stricken, struggling to get away from me. 
But I held her. I levelled my rifle and began firing; and as 
the Cones lumbered closer and their frenzied rustling seemed 
to roar in the narrow tunnel I pumped the trigger while the 
weapon leapt in my hands until there was only a click on 
bare metal and I knew that my ammunition was gone. 

I threw the rifle down then, forced Joann to one side of 
the tunnel and pressed her hard against the curving wall. 
Then, protecting her with my own body, feeling the warm 
panting fear in her heaving breasts, I turned off the torch . . . 

And we waited. 



Long, endless moments went by. The Cones were closer 
now, moving at speed, and I felt Joann stiffen as they drew 
nearer. There was no light now. We were blind. I cursed 
myself silently for not keeping the rifle to use as a club; and 
for an instant I half turned away from Joann, beginning to 
stoop, groping for the weapon. Then, in that same moment, 
there was an explosion of sound that jerked me erect. A rifle ! 
Fired twice! 

I jerked a hand downward, seized the torch, flicked it on. 
And in the flare of light I saw — and I could scarcely believe 
it — that the Cones were milling helplessly, caught by the rifle 
fire that was thundering out of the tunnel. Two of them 
rushed at the light, and Joann screamed. But I flung myself 
forward, snatching up the empty rifle and wielding it 
savagely. The Cones fell back, recoiling with the others; and 
now the rifle fire from the far end of the tunnel was increas- 
ing. Bullets whined off the walls close beside us. and I 
shouted then, cupping my hands and warning Brightan — it 
had to be Brightan — that we were here. 

Moments later, torch flashing, he came out of the shadows, 
picking a way through the fallen Cones. He moved easily 
and confidently, and as Joann and I went toward him I knew 
that he had taken Second City — that the fire in the storeroom 
had led him to us — and the ship had been won as far as 
the Ruins. 

Now we would face the Presidium. 



BLISS 



83 



six 

When we got back to the surface, Brightan"s army was 
already reforming. All over the city now there were fires that 
marked the destruction of the mutant Cones. Many of the 
Giants, resisting fiercely, had also been killed. Others were 
being herded together now, the fight gone out of them. 
Brighton's Pleb force had done its work well — they and the 
Gids had suffered only slight casualties. 

Now, as the force was regrouping I told Brightan how 
Joann had thought the weight of arms and men was to be 
deployed against the Plebs. His tough face grew concerned 
as he listened to my account of our flight through the tunnel, 
and when I finished, he accompanied Joann to the rear of 
the column, ordered a Gid to look after her, and was sub- 
dued and unsmiling as he gave us the signal to begin our 
advance. 

Leaving a token force behind us in the Ruins, we moved 
on toward Pleb City. Brightan was in contact with the flank- 
ing attacks now, as they began to flow through the trans- 
mitters, forming twin spearheads that would angle in from 
left and right. 

For a time we met little resistance; but as we broke out 
of the wild ponies and began to cross cultivated ground we 
were checked momentarily by a hastily formed upperdeck 
militia. They fought without heart though, and in the begin- 
ning dawn they were ludicrously conspicuous in multi- 
coloured robes. Our pincer attack snuffed them quickly and 
we moved on. 

When we broke into Pleb City there were Presidium 
snipers already stationed in the higher buildings. A dozen of 
our men fell before the last of these was weeded out, but we 
were moving onward in a rush now, penetrating to the Lower 
Place itself, where the steel pillar — reminder of Presidium 
rule — stabbed upward into the lightening sky. Ahead was the 
companionway leading to the Power Room, and here 
Brightan signalled me forward — I was familiar with this 
section of the ship — and at a crouch, splitting into two groups 
now, we rushed the Power Room, fighting hand to hand until 
we had control, then advancing up the second companionway 
while one group took rearguard positions. 



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As we fanned out across the avenue, moving down the 
wide street, a stillness seemed to have settled over the ship. 
We passed fearful groups of upperdeck people, huddled 
unarmed in the narrower passagetubes. We walked slowly, 
weapons at the ready, and now, as we approached the heart 
of the Presidium itself 1 could feel the first heat of triumph 
flushing into my cheeks. Nothing could stop us now. We 
were going to break through . . . 

The first blast of the heat weapon struck a dozen yards to 
to my left and twenty men were killed instantly. The second 
cut a swathe through the line only feet away to my right. 
Brightan was hit and badly burnt, but he didn't die. He 
didn't even fall. His uniform was on fire and one arm was 
useless, but he was bellowing orders, blasting us out of the 
line of fire with his tongue. He ran with us, tearing the upper 
half of his uniform away. The skin of his arm was black; his 
face was scorched, the hair gone. We hit a passagetube 
together, throwing ourselves clear of the heat ray as it lashed 
out again. 

There were others here with us, some wounded, some 
shocked. The smell of burning flesh was everywhere. I didn't 
waste time. I wriggled closer to Brightan, gripped his good 
arm; and he turned, teeth clenched tight against pain. Out- 
side, the avenue had been cleared. A quarter of our force 
was gone. 

" Give me five men ! " I thrust my face close to Brightan's. 
" I know the way. I could get a small force through to that 
gun! " 

Brightan was already shaking his head. He wouldn't give 
an order that might kill others. And now I knew what 1 had 
to do. The Presidium's murder weapon couldn't be taken by 
an army. But one man could do it. Brightan was out of his 
senses with pain. He tried to pin me down as I pushed 
myself erect, loaded weapon in my hands. I shook him free, 
moved forward two slow paces, and eased myself round the 
corner of the building. 



My back was pressed hard against the steel wall. With the 
sweat rolling down my body I edged along the side of that 
building, burnt ponies under my feet. My eyes were on a 
point that seemed beyond reach — the entrance to a passage- 
tube I knew well. 



BLISS 



85 



All the way along that steel wall I was expecting the heat 
weapon to fire again. But it never did. I got to the passage- 
tube, swung round the corner, and was safe. Now, rifle 
levelled, I pushed my way through unarmed upperdeck 
people. I turned to my left, running now with my rubber- 
soled boots silent on the steel deck. The passagetube ahead 
was deserted. The lighting was poor here, but now the doors 
on either side were familiar. I slowed to a walk, passed one 
door, then another. Then I stopped. 

For one moment I stood outside the place that had once 
been my home. Then, twisting the lock back, kicking once 
at the door and swinging it open, I went forward into the 
cabin. 

My rifle was up high, trained on Jack before he could turn. 
To one side, my mother was wide-eyed and fearful, hands 
lifting in reflex action. My father wasn't here. 

I didn't say anything. I took two quick paces toward Jack 
— a pale and frightened Jack — chopped him across the throat 
with the edge of my hand, and caught him as he felL 
I handled him roughly. Mother rushed at me, but I set her 
gently aside. I forced Jack's arm up his back and drove him 
forward. He shrieked like a girl as the pain leapt into his 
shoulder, and suddenly I was remembering my own pain, 
years ago, when he had done this to me. 

Savagely, toughened in soul by Brightan's training, I forced 
him out into the tube, swinging him to the right, going back 
the way we had come. We met upperdeck men, and I shoved 
them aside. Jack fought me briefly then, but I held him, and 
no one moved in to take him away from me. Now, as I took 
him closer to the avenue Jack began to whimper and plead 
for himself. I heard the roar of the heat weapon as it fired 
again, and I knew a tentative advance had been stopped. 
Jack squirmed desperately in my arms as we felt the backlash 
of the ray. 

But we didn't move out into the line of fire. We came to 
a halt a yard from the end of the tube, and now, close 
beside us, was the natural ladder Jack and I knew so well. 
The corner of a window, the top of a door frame, another 
window, a crevice — and then the roof of the deck house. 

"Up there! " I told him now. 

He didn't hesitate. The muzzle of the rifle was hard in his 
back as he began to climb. He gripped the ledge of the window, 
pulled himself upward until his scrabbling feet found a hold 



86 



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and he was able to balance, reaching high for the door frame. 
I swung up after him, hanging by one hand as I gestured 
savagely at the upperdeck men below us, waving them back. 
Then, following Jack, I climbed to the roof; and here, as 
I eased myself over the edge, Jack made his last attempt to 
fight me. He swung with his foot and caught me in the 
shoulder, but he was too late and I was balanced now. 
I came up fast, rising with the rifle in my hands. Jack backed 
away, the fear written into his face. But I didn't fire. 
I needed him. 

I pushed him forward again, silently; and together we 
crossed those rooftops, leaping over narrow passagetubes, 
moving toward the head of the avenue. 

Up here we were hidden from the men who were operating 
the heat gun, and now, as we drew closer, I pressed a hand 
to Jack's shoulder, forcing him to his knees. We crawled 
along the final roof — and now each sound from a boot or 
a knee scuffing over steel set the hair prickling at the back 
of my neck. 

For a moment, when we reached the edge of the roof, we 
lay motionless; and my eyes were close to Jack's as he 
twisted toward me. He knew we were going down, and he 
was sweating faintly now, as the fear took hold of him. 
Below us was another passagetube — and this one would take 
us to the gun itself. But we didn't know the climb. There were 
thirty dangerous feet below us now, and Jack would be lead- 
ing the way. 

I grinned at him then — actually enjoying this. He could 
betray us now. A single shout. A wave. But he would die 
as agonizingly as I would, swept to oblivion in the heat ray. 
So he didn't shout or wave. He moved forward, let himself 
slide over the edge of the building, white fingers gripping 
the roof for a frantic moment until his feet found a hold. 
Then he started down, and I followed. 

I climbed smoothly, feeling the quiet strength in my arms 
and legs. Brightan had trained us well. Inactivity had 
weakened men like Jack, but I was tough and confident, and 
the pumping fear in me was almost exhilarating. 

As Jack reached the deck. I let myself drop. I landed noise- 
lessly on rubber soles, crouched now, rifle levelled. I stabbed 
a hand out and held Jack in against the steel wall. Then 
I went forward — two slow paces — and looked around the 
edge of the building. 



BLISS 



87 



There were four men — four Presidium members — operat- 
ing the heat gun. It was shielded around its barrel — a deadly, 
armoured weapon that even Brightan hadn't known existed — 
but its sides were open. It was set at the end of the avenue, 
behind the strip of ponic lawn that marked the beginning 
of the Presidium's sanctuary. At its rear were the private 
chambers of the committee, where the handful of top men, 
my father among them, would be cowering from the 
invasion forces. 

I had seen enough. The heat gun was fluidly mounted — it 
could be trained on me and fired in an instant. But there 
was one person who could prevent this happening. Jack was 
the elder son of a Presidium member. No one would kill 
him without a moment of hesitation. 

And a moment was all I needed. 

I turned quick then, the decision made. I jerked Jack 
toward me, pivoted, and was behind him. I jammed the rifle 
into his back and flung him out of the passagetube. 

I was a yard behind him, and he knew he was dead if he 
tried to break away. I was down low, and already the big 
heat gun was swinging in our direction. They could see me 
and they could see Jack, and it was Jack who stopped them. 

They didn't fire. They waited an instant too long. And 
even when the rifle began pumping in my hands and the 
men at the gun began to fall, no one depressed the button 
that would kill an heir to the Presidium. 

I went forward in a rush then, flinging Jack to one side; 
and already, down the avenue, men were breaking cover. 
I whirled, raised one arm, and the invasion force closed in 
quickly. Brightan was at their head, one arm dangling, his 
burnt face grotesque under the sunlights. 

There was no more firing. The two men still alive at the 
heat gun flung their hands high. Jack lay where he had 
fallen, pale face buried in his hands. And now we advanced 
on the sacrosanct quarters. Brightan and I, side by side. We 
fired together and the lock burst apart. We went on into the 
inner chambers . . . 

The great ship that had travelled so far fell through white 
clouds to a blue world of promise. A man and a woman 
stepped from the ship, hand in hand, and named this world 
Bliss. 

— David Rome 



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Science Fiction Adventures 



The City was built up and down, Level upon Level. 
The sun, stars, sky and ocean were but legends in 
forbidden history — until Gordon found the Books, 
then the pressure really began to increase in his 
mind. 



PRESSURE 

by LEE HARDING 



Gordon stopped writing and looked up at the clock. It was 
a round, vulgar little anachronism standing on four spindly legs 
on a corner of the bookshelf. Its pious hands were indicating 
two minutes to ten and it was ticking noisily. 

He compressed his lips into a narrow, almost invisible line 
and his right hand resumed the task of transmitting his 
muddled thoughts to paper. 

Tonight, he wrote, / noticed that even the ticking of the clock 
has begun to annoy me . . . 

And as he sat before his cramped little table and struggled to 
enter the substance of the day's happenings into his diary, 
Doreen's voice penetrated the walls of his bedroom. 

" Ralph, darling ..." 

His hand gripped convulsively on the ball-pen and the plastic 
splintered between his fingers. 

The door behind him opened. His wife stood framed in the 
doorway, regarding his unturned back petulantly. " The 
Barkers just phoned," she informed. " They thought we 
might like to come over for a game of scrabble." 

Gordon stared hard at the bookcase. The torrent of words 
washed over him and forced the lines of his face towards 



PRESSURE 



89 



intolerable agony as his wife's voice droned on in that predict- 
ably nagging manner he had come to detest. And he couldn't 
face her, for fear that her nasty, suspicious little mind might be 
surprised into burrowing for the truth. 

Oh, curse the Barkers and their infantile preoccupation with 
party games ! 

But the noise of her voice. It was cutting his mind to shreds. 

" Not tonight," he said. " Some other time." 

" Oh, you and your silly work !" she snapped. " Who do 
you think you are, writing in little books all the time — an 
Historian or something ?" 



The word write was a dirty word in her mouth. To Doreen 
and uncountable millions like her any form of self-expression 
was simply incomprehensible. 

Faced with his silence she stormed back into the living-room, 
slamming the bedroom door behind her. The concussion 
exploded a cloud of red flashes inside his head and sent his 
senses reeling under the impact. He grabbed desperately at the 
edge of the table to keep from falling into the aching pit of 
unconsciousness that swept up to engulf him, and somehow 
succeeded. 

His normal world gradually swam back into focus as his 
vision cleared and he looked down at the broken pieces of 
ball-pen in front of him. Somewhere a clock ticked even louder 
than before, innocent of the fact that it was causing its owner 
discomfort. 

He was still sitting there a while later when Doreen's voice 
again pounced hungrily through the closed door and fastened 
sharp little teeth on the tatters of his mind. 

" I'm going over to Pat and Norm's. You can stay in there 
all night if you want to — and get your own damn supper." 
There was the sound of irate heels clicking angrily towards the 
front door of their unit and then the muffled sound of it closing 
behind her. 

Thank God, he breathed. Thank God for the Barker's and 
their childish pre-occupations. At least they had given him a 
few hours respite. A weak sigh escaped his lips and he leant 
back in his chair and rubbed his aching forehead. His eyes 
sought and found the clock, his mind groping for and analysing 
the enigma of its ticking. 

Was he losing after all ? 



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Science Fiction Adventures 



The clock stared back. It was nothing more than a box full 
of whirring gears, and yet it was somehow conspiring to 
threaten what little peace of mind he now possessed. He 
considered switching it off, and then remembered that it was 
non-electric and that he'd have to dismantle its innards in 
some way. 

The thought was dismissed almost as quickly as it came. To 
take such an action would signify a failure on his part. And 
one failure could lead to the complete destruction of his plans ; 
he must follow everything through to the last decimal point of 
endurance. 

So he compromised : he would endure the noise of the clock 
until it ran down. After that it need not annoy him for he 
wouldn't wind it up again. The thing was completely unneces- 
sary, anyway. The wall clock in the livingroom was silent and 
accurate, as were all the official clocks in the City for they came 
under direct guidance of Control. But this thing was forever 
losing time — when it wasn't gaining it. It was useless, really, 
nothing more than an ornament, like the faded volumes in his 
bookshelf and the ancient paintings around the wall of the 
bedroom and the assortment of ornamental trivia dotting the 
furniture. Anachronisms all, bridges to a forgotten past. 

With Doreen gone and the blare of the tri-di absent there was 
a chance that a resemblance of peace and quiet might return to 
his room, amidst which the bothersome ticking of the clock 
could easily fade to an inaudible background murmer. 

As he sat and explored the extent of his predicament, fatigue 
fell upon him unexpectedly and he welcomed it thankfully like 
a man who has exhausted himself almost beyond the powers 
of recuperation. 

Which in effect he had. 

He undressed and crawled into bed, wrapping the warm 
silence around him and letting his body stretch out luxuriously 
beneath the thermo sheet and anticipated the balm of sleep. 

He lay there, unmoving, for some time. His ears probed the 
solitude distrustfully and then fastened upon a familiar intruder 
The clock ticked noisily, the sound rising steadily in volume 
until it threatened to swallow the universe. 

He gritted his teeth and burrowed deeper into the bed. He 
had imagined he had successfully cast the offending clockwork 
out of his mind, and here it had returned and a hundred times 
more vicious than before. 



PRESSURE 



91 



Was there no end to the torture ? 

Grimly, he tried to sweat it out. He must win, otherwise he 
was as good as finished. Once the first chink appeared in his 
armour he feared that a rapid descent into despair would be 
inevitable. 

A number of times he thought wildly of getting up and find- 
ing some way to stop it, but each time a small voice called up 
from the depths of his suffering. Hold on, it said, hold on . . . 

And he held on. He was not even sure of sleep when it came. 
His mind was a jumble of images in which the real mtermingled 
with the stuff of dreams and nightmares until it became 
impossible to distinguish one from the other. But sometime 
during the long night he did manage to salvage a few ragged 
hours of sleep before the new day dragged him back into the 
growing maelstrom of existence. 



When he awoke in the morning the sense of failure hung like 
a dirty taste in his mouth. But the world was quiet. 

He got up and dressed like a man awakening from a drugged 
sleep. His mind had been dulled and blunted by the night's 
ordeal ; it would be well into the day before he would be 
capable of thinking with his customary efficiency. 

Still shrugging off the cobwebs of sleep, he walked over to 
the dressing table in search of his shoes. His bare feet trod on 
something small, sharp and broken. He winced and looked 
quickly down, and there on the carpet were the scattered 
innards of the clock. Its plastic face was crushed and broken, 
one hand pointing rudely to twelve and bits and pieces of its 
now silent mechanism lying beside it. There was a mark on the 
wall near the door where it could have been thrown with 
stunning force. 

Then it hadn't been a nightmare at all. He had broken ; he 
had finally been able to stand the terrible noise no longer and 
he had got up and picked the clock up with trembling hands 
and dashed it angrily against the wall of the bedroom. He had 
thought the incident nothing more than another vague 
phantom of dream. 

He felt sudden anger at the weakness in him that was 
responsible for such an irrational action. But the clock was 
silenced now. It could not annoy him again. He pushed 
the broken pieces under the synthetic carpet and put the 
battered clock away inside one of the built-in wall cupboards. 



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Science Fiction Adventures 



In the toilet he doused his face vigorously in cold water and 
towelled his face and arms roughly in the hope of dispelling 
some of the fog of headache that still clung to him. As he bent 
over the washbasin one hand rose automatically towards the 
medicine chest for a headache capsule, but just as quickly 
returned to the basin. 

He stared at his drawn, haggard face in the mirror and 
thought : God, but I'm looking old ! He was thirty-five, but the 
face of the man in the mirror looked closer to fifty. Was this 
to be the result of his meddling with the dictates of Control ? 

And he would not take any capsule — not even to relieve his 
headache. Total abstinence was the only way to prove his 
theories. He would see it out to the bitter end. 

After he had removed the overnight stubble he reached 
inside the medicine chest and behind the brightly coloured 
capsule containers extracted the diminishing ball of flesh- 
coloured cotton wool. He pulled away two tiny tufts of the 
material and worked them carefully into the cavities of his ears, 
taking great care to make the tiny plugs of wool inconspicuous 
This done he felt ready to face the world for another gruelling 
day. But today, as he had done for the past week, he found 
himself wondering : today might be the last. He couldn't get 
away with what he was doing indefinitely. Control wasn't that 
big a fool. 

Doreen was sitting disconsolately at the breakfast table when 
he walked into the dinette. He hadn't heard her come in 
during the night and she had not disturbed him ; they had been 
sleeping in separate rooms for some time now and the arrange- 
ment suited them both. 

The clock in the living-room had indicated nine-fifty. That 
left only five minutes for breakfast and the thought pleased him 
greatly, for he would have only a little time to endure the 
pressure of his wife's company. 

The thought brightened him considerably. There was even 
an uncommon tenderness in the goodbye kiss to his wife and a 
new lift to his steps as he made for the front door. 

" Have you taken your pills ?" she called after him. 

He stiffened, one hand on the door knob. " Yes," he lied. 
" See you this afternoon." And closed the door behind him. 

Before stepping on to the footstrip Gordon paused outside 
the door of their unit, like a dog testing the air. Sound was 



PRESSURE 



93 



already buffeting at the raw wound inside his head. But his 
confidence had returned ; the strain of the previous evening 
didn't seem half so bad now as it had in the bleary first light of 
morning. Perhaps he had made some headway at last. 

Overhead, the solid block of housing Units rose above him. 
There was a lot to be said for living at Ground Level. A man 
spent enough time as it was riding up and down the buildings in 
elevators. His eyes travelled up to where the towering grey 
blocks met the floor of the next Level that formed the roof of 
Gordon's world. And while the City groped ever higher 
towards the sky, below him the great structure dropped away 
to an awesome chasm that sought blindly for the sub-Levels. 
But all this was hidden from Gordon's eyes and those of his 
fellow workmen for the ground of his Level 23 in turn formed 
the roof over the levels below. And so it went. 

Gordon's Level had wide streets interlaced with sweeping 
overpasses and humming footstrips. Here and there the 
occasional twitter of a gyro or the distant murmer of machinery 
concealed within the stark simplicity of the buildings broke the 
immediate silence. But that was before the people appeared on 
the scene ; the vast tide of commuters pouring forth from their 
housing Units and invading the footstrips that carried them off 
to their respective destinations, and turned the whole sterile 
world into a harsh, raucous bedlam with their loud, senseless 
talk. 

This is my world, Gordon thought, bitterly. The whole god- 
damned awful world. Why had he come to loathe it so ? Even 
before he had stopped taking the little scarlet capsules he had 
begun to detest it. 

A succession of footstrips carried him to his destination. 
Computer Control Centre was a vast building little different 
from similar constructions around it. Indeed, the whole city 
seemed composed of the same featureless metal and plastic. 
Inside its walls was a complex, omnipotent machine which held 
the great equation of the City balanced within its electronic 
innards. 

Gordon was whisked rapidly to his particular floor and he 
stepped out of the elevator and made his way along the long 
corridor to his compartment. Once enclosed within the small 
room he felt his body relax a little and he felt quite calm as he 
seated himself at his desk. His arms folded, he stared at the 
bank of instruments before him and solemnly waited. 



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Science Fiction Adventures 



The whole procedure of his working day was quite simple. 
In a little while the chute to his left would burp out a mountain 
of punched cards which he, in turn, would insert into the 
narrow mouthpiece leading to the portion of the computer's 
brain responsible for Statistics and after a short wait the answer 
to the problem would be expelled through the smaller chute on 
his right. After decoding the punched card he would place the 
typewritten paper in a small container which would be sucked 
along a maze of tunnels until it finally reached its destination. 
Gordon had little idea where that destination would be, nor did 
he care. He did his part of the job, beyond that he never 
worried. Or at least he never had worried up until now . . . 

It was all very simple and required the minimum of mental 
exertion. Sometimes the door behind him would open and a 
girl would come in with an urgent typewritten interrogation 
sheet which he would have to transpose on to a punched card 
and then insert into the machine. That took time and broke 
the monotony. 

Perhaps that was what Control intended. 

Nowadays Gordon's working hours were plagued by a 
variety of elusive questioning thoughts. Today it was this : 
/ wonder what people do with themselves ? Oh, he knew that 
Norm worked in Maintainance and Charley had something to 
do with Air Conditioning, but what about the rest of those 
nameless strangers he saw on the footstrips ? 

And you couldn't call Norm or Charleys' work real work, no 
more than his. Work was something vital, exciting, interesting. 
At least, that was the way it appeared in the old books he had 
read. Not this monotonous existence. People only seemed to 
be filling in time. A number of times he had been unsettled by 
the thought that the City could quite easily dispense with their 
services entirely, so utterly pointless did their activities appear 
to him, as if the hours they worked were nothing more than a 
token offering, something to keep them occupied and out of 
mischief. 

Another more horrifying thought occurred to him : was 
Control nothing more than a vast machine, something similar 
to the Computer he served, that had little need for human 
symbiosis ? 

As though in censure for these thoughts he noticed that the 
hum and throb of the workings of the vast brain had begun to 
penetrate into his mind by extremely devious means. It by- 



PRESSURE 



95 



passed his auditory nerves completely and instead inveigled its 
annoying way through the very stuff of his body. His skeleton 
became the carrier of annoying, devastating vibrations which 
suggested they might ultimately shake his body apart. 

By the time the mid-day lunch break arrived his resolve of 
the morning had crumbled beneath the onslaught of the 
insidious vibrations. There seemed no way to escape them. 
His position in the cubicle threatened to become unbearable. 

He made his way quickly out of the building and on to a 
footstrip that carried him over to the main elevator shaft 
connecting the various Levels of the City. He rode the plastic 
ribbon apprehensively, the muted sounds of the city's pulse 
struggling to pierce his numbed senses in a thousand different 
ways. Already he was fearing a recurrence of the previous 
day's terrors, and the prospect appalled him. He must find 
solitude, if only for the two short hours ahead of him. 

The guards at the Shaft scrutinised his pass and then let him 
through into the elevator. The door slid shut and the cube 
descended rapidly, pressing Gordon's stomach against his ribs 
and bringing on the familiar nausea. 

The lift fell deeper into the bowels of the City. Level after 
Level slid invisibly past and then the cube came to a gentle stop 
and the doors slid across to reveal the familiar streets of Level 
One. Two guards took his pass and examined it more carefully 
than their counterparts on Level 23. They finally let him 
through and he walked out into the quiet streets. 

It was only recently that he had discovered the remarkably 
quiet atmosphere that existed on the lower Levels, and on One 
in particular. This was the guts of the City that laboured to 
keep the upper levels alive. Here, also ; the pulse of life seemed 
to have slowed almost to a standstill and people moved like 
sleepwalkers through the dimly-lit streets. 

He had first fled here a little more than a week ago, when the 
noise and discord around him had become too much to bear, 
and down the only direction in which he could flee. His Class 
7 pass allowed him unrestricted travel between Levels 1 and 23. 
Further down, the sni-Levels pulsed with enigmatic life, 
forever hidden from his kind. Rumour had it that they were 
the life blood of the city which in turn fed the machines of 
Level One. Higher up, of course, rose the forbidden ramparts 
of the Upper Levels. 



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Science Fiction Adventures 



Gordon had never seen the sun. The moon and the stars 
were equally unattainable and seasons but a myth. There were 
stories that the Higher Ups could really crane their necks up 
and actually see open sky instead of the grey foundation of 
another Level. 

He would have given a great deal to travel to the Upper 
Levels — but such requests could only be construed as insub- 
ordination and would be dealt with accordingly. A man must 
stick to his allotted Level. He could go down if he wished to 
discover and be awed by the workings of the City, but any 
attempt to climb higher in search of mental enlightenment was 
forbidden. What was it that Control was afraid of? Why 
were there restrictions ? 

Like the old days, he thought, when people had to go through 
a vast mountain of red-tape just to visit another country. 
Perhaps human nature hadn't changed a great deal, merely 
accelerated some of the dogmatic ideas of the race. 

There were none of the familiar footstrips to carry him along. 
Here a man used his limbs and walked, as he had done in the 
Old Days before the dreadful hive existence had begun. 

That was what bothered Gordon more than anything. Why 
had it begun in the first place, and where would it all end ? 
Mankind had faced the beginning of the twenty-first century 
with the stars in their grasp and somehow had lost them. 

Or had they ? 

That was something Gordon was trying to find out. 

The overhead lighting was dim and antiquated and the 
streets narrow and not too clean. More like passageways, 
really, for here vehicular traffic was unheard of. Behind the 
massive walls of the buildings lay the completely automated 
machinery responsible for handling the waste disposal of the 
City, as well as the beginnings of the vast network of air- 
recirculation pipes and water systems that stitched together the 
Levels. It was no wonder that, if the sub-Levels were referred 
to as the brains and heart of the City, then Level One was 
obviously the guts. 

Where this particular Level differed from those higher up 
was in the manner in which time seemed to have flowed to a 
stop momentarily, casting up odd lumps of the past on to the 
backwaters of the present. 

For here there were shops, row upon row of them offering 
anything from food to clothing to knick-knacks for sale. And 



PRESSURE 



97 



shops were unheard of on Level 23. Here was the domain of 
the city's proletariat and the people were surrounded with the 
symbology of their world. 

As he walked along the crowded but quietly undulating 
streets he became aware of the vast weight of the City pressing 
down upon him, while around him it swelled to join the 
borders of other Cities and so conspired to girdle the globe 
with a single sheath of metal and plastic. 

Is this all ? his conscience kept demanding. Is there no more 
to life than this ? 

He finally found the little shop he was looking for and 
opened the door and walked in. 

The little bell still jangled inanely above his head. He 
closed the door behind him and its cry was stilled. Inside it 
was as he had remembered it, as it had been on his last visit two 
days ago. 

It was a small room, divided midway by a counter and 
around it on all sides were tables stacked high with an assort- 
ment of drama tapes and musical compositions. All this failed 
to interest him. It was the back of the room that drew his 
thirsty attention. One corner was devoted to a few rows of 
carefully stacked books. 

Real books. 

A door at the back of the little shop opened and the old man 
came in. Gordon didn't know his name, if indeed he possessed 
one. Any identity the man might have once had now seemed 
submerged by the accumulated weight of years. His face was 
heavily lined, but friendly, and he welcomed Gordon with 
customary enthusiasm. 

" Good day, Mister Gordon. So pleasant to see you again. 
Anything in particular you are looking for?" His voice 
filtered softly through Gordon's ear plugs. 

Gordon shook his head. " Just browsing," he lied. 

" But of course." The old man made a vague gesture with 
one hand, giving Gordon his customary freedom of the shop, 
and then sat down behind the counter and busied himself 
sorting tapes. 

Gordon looked impatiently through some of the tapes, 
purchasing a few for the sake of appearances, and then 
wandered over to the hand bound volumes in the corner. His 
pulse quickened noticeably as his eyes moved over the lettering 
on the spines. Some were faded and difficult to read. They 



S8 



Science Fiction Adventures 



must be old, he thought, and wondered how old. Already he 
had more than a dozen of the books back home in his own 
room. He had bought them one at a time when expenses 
permitted. His ambition was to ultimately own the lot, but 
that would take more spending money than he could expect in 
a lifetime. 

For the present he had to content himself with procuring 
those items that particularly fascinated him. And then there 
was the uneasiness which made him wary to show too great an 
interest in the Old Books. There was no telling just how 
Control might construe such an interest. The puzzling thing 
was that they even allowed shops like this to exist . . . 

" I see you like the old books," the proprietor remarked 
from his place at the counter. 

Gordon looked around. " They do interest me," he replied. 
" I suppose it's just different to putting a tape in a viewer, 
that's all." 

The old man nodded. " There's not many who are interested 
in printed books any more, you know. Only collectors. Are 
you a collector, Mister Gordon." 

" Yes, I suppose I am. But in a small way, you understand." 
And, in a way he was. A collector of enigmas, of things that 
didn't add up or make sense. 

Most of the printed volumes he had accumulated were 
simply technical treaties devoted to the City and its workings, 
issued by Control to satisfy a demand for hand-printed work 
amongst the odd-balls of society. And then, only those few 
days ago had had stumbled upon this place and the fascinating 
contents. He had asked the old man if there were any other 
bookshops on the Level and he had replied, rather sadly, 
Gordon thought, that there were not. His was the last in the 
City. Perhaps, and this was an ominous thought, the last in all 
the World. 

His attention returned to the books, Gordon was annoyed to 
see two particular volumes missing. After a fruitless search he 
turned to the proprietor and said : " Those two volumes on 
astronautics you had here the other day ; I can't seem to locate 
them." He tried to make his voice sound as calm and detached 
as possible. 

The old man got up and came over to him. A puzzled frown 
deepened the hnes of his face. " Astronautics ?" he said, 
dubiously. " Which ones were they ?" 



PRESSURE 



99 



" I don't remember the titles, but I do know the names of the 
writers. One was Clarke and the other was Ley, I think. They 
were here the day before yesterday . . ." 

The other's face brightened then. " Oh, those ancients." 

Was it imagination, Gordon wondered, or did he detect a 
faint flicker of amusement in the old man's eyes ? 

" They went yesterday. Another young chap bought them. 
I think he was from Higher Up — maybe around your Level. 
He had a Class 6 pass, anyway." He looked appropriately 
disappointed for Gordon's sake. " But if there's anything else 
I can . . ." 

" No, no, that's all right." Gordon paid for his tapes and 
left the shop, his thoughts spinning wildly all the time. So he 
wasn't the only one after all. There were others as curious as 
he was. But he was dismayed, none the less, that he had 
missed out on those two books. They may have helped to 
clear up a few of the unanswered questions gnawing away 
inside him. 

He boarded the elevator and ascended to Level 23 and then 
back to his cubicle in Computer Control Centre. When he 
arrived, there was a heavy batch of work lying beneath the 
incoming chute. He fell to the task half-heartedly. After all, 
was it really necessary to go through this rigamarole day after 
day ? Why couldn't those in need of the information submit 
it directly to the computer themselves instead of channelling it 
through him and thousands like him ? Was it really because 
the City was so vast and complex that it needed the efficient 
operation of countless individual cells ? 

But the more he studied the problem the stronger grew his 
conviction that the work he was engaged upon was nothing 
more than a token offering. Such being the case he saw little 
reason to really overwork himself, so he pushed the pile of 
cards to one side and rested his head on his crossed arms and 
tried to wangle a brief rest before the sharp sabres of discord 
resumed their merciless hacking away at his mind. 

His thoughts wandered. Inevitably, he brought together 
their various skeins and traced the sum of his accomplishments. 

Even now he could not easily define when the first spark of 
rebellion had burst into life. Sometime before even the 
discovery of the old Histories in the Central Library, perhaps. 
Tt had grown from the slow accumulation of curiosity which 



100 



Science Fiction Adventures 



the passage of information through his cubicle in Statistics had 
fed. It was those intriguing facts which had first caused him to 
wonder about the system he lived under. What he did find 
difficult to accept was the fact that none of his friends or 
workmates exhibited a similar curiosity, and after a few 
abortive attempts to communicate his ideas he thought better 
of it, and kept his doubts to himself. 

It was much later that he had discovered the faded yellow 
books buried deep within the thousands of tapes crammed into 
the Library. At first he had expected merely another of the 
endless treatises on the running of the City, but as he carefully 
turned the ancient pages he began to realise that he held 
within his hands something different to the average printed 
text-book. 

Before his eyes a vast printed panorama of history opened 
before him. Chronicled within the seven volumes was a 
concise history of the World from the thirteenth to the 
twentieth century. This was an incredibly more detailed 
history book than any he had previously encountered. There 
was so much hidden within the dusty tomes that for a while he 
imagined that the whole thing was a gigantic work of fiction. 
Later, he began to believe all that he read was true and he lost 
count of the number of times he returned to the Library to 
devour the contents of the books. 

Nowadays, he found time to wonder just what those 
particular books were doing there in the first place, for to a 
mind as curious as Gordon's the contents therein were literal 
dynamite, and bound to spark off further curiosity. But then, 
perhaps the volumes had been forgotten with the passage of 
years, in much the same way as the bookshop on Level One. 

In the weeks that followed his discovery of the Histories his 
whole world gradually turned upside down and he was forced 
from one enigma to another. There seemed no end to the 
unanswered questions nagging away at him. 

After reading the lengthy volumes one fact emerged clearly 
in his head. The history ended with the closing years of the 
twentieth century. Earth had established bases on the moon 
and had already sent probes to the nearer planets. 

And this was the twenty second century, the year two 
thousand one hundred and ninety-two — or so Control said. 
There was every reason to be doubtful of what Control said, he 
had discovered. 



PRESSURE 



101 



There was no mention of the Cities in the History. Oh, there 
were cities all right — London, Paris, Rome, Moscow, Chicago 
and the like, but no Cities. The great hives of steel and plastic 
stretching up into the sky were non-existent at the close of the 
twentieth century. There wasn't even the faintest hint of the 
future man would carve for himself in the rabbit warrens of his 
own miserable planet. And why should there be, for hadn't 
man possessed the stars in his hands as the century came to a 
close ? 

Something had happened to the human race since then. 
Something had caused it to evolve into this stagnant, hive-like 
existence ; something had caused real history to be suppressed 
and only a skeletal substitute taught in the Schools. 

Most important of all there was no mention of the scarlet 
capsules. 

Everybody took them — Control made it compulsory from 
the age of two years onwards. Two a day, one in the morning 
and one in the evening. Vitamin Supplements, Control called 
them. But why have them at all ? If the food they ate was 
vitamin deficient to a certain extent, why couldn't the supple- 
ments be introduced into the food when it was synthetised ? 

There was something suspiciously unbalanced in that 
particular puzzle, but try as he would he couldn't come up with 
a better explanation than Control's. 

It was but a short step from those first tentative suspicions 
to a complete lack of faith in everything concerned with 
Control Computer Centre and in fact everything about his life 
that he had once accepted without question. 

In time he was unable to resist the temptation of the 
Computer. He began by cautiously submitting questions 
completely irrelevant to his problems, and then one day he took 
his first nervous plunge. 

Why do we take the scarlet capsules ? read the holes punched 
into the small card. 

Very quickly, he thought, the brain had shot out a card into 
his hands. His eyes quickly translated the message. 

Define the term ' we.' 

He swore and repunched the question and inserted it into the 
narrow orifice again. 

Why do human beings take the scarlet capsules ? 

The answer was the familiar warning dictated by Control. 
He knew it by heart, had known it since he was two years old. 



102 



Science Fiction Adventures 



The Capsules are supplementary dietary combinations which 
the Law requires you to take as prescribed. To abstain from this 
will result in . . . 

Gordon screwed the card up and cast it into the disposal 
chute. He hadn't really expected anything more revealing. 
After all wasn't the Computer the slave of Control ? 

It was at that moment he had decided to stop taking the 
capsules, not only from a desire to see what would happen to 
him but also as a snook in the nose at Control. He had no way 
of knowing that in performing such an action he was com- 
mitting his first tangible act of revolt against the system which 
kept him. 

The effect of his abstinence was not immediate. He began 
by cutting his intake of capsules down to one a day and kept 
this up for two weeks. When no discomfort was apparent he 
dispensed with the dosage entirely and awaited the results 
apprehensively. At the end of three weeks he detected the first 
signs of difference, and even then he was surprised to find that 
he felt in no way the worse off. If anything, he felt better than 
he had in a long time. 

It was like ridding oneself of a burden, depositing a heavy 
load off the shoulder, feeling well after a long sickness, coming 
out of the dark and into the light, like growing up all of a 
sudden. It was all these things, and something more subtle 
than that. 

He felt alive. More completely alive than he had ever 
imagined. He seemed to see things with astonishing clarity, 
hear things with a new perception. He was able to think more 
clearly than he had ever believed possible. 

But he was unprepared for the disastrous effects of his 
liberation. It took but a few days for him to realise that 
everybody around him seemed appallingly wrong. The entire 
population of the city seemed to be wandering around in a 
drugged stupor. With Doreen it was most noticeable. She 
had never been one for gaiety and swift repartee but quite 
suddenly she had become as limp and soggy and as uninterest- 
ing as an old dishcloth. 

He looked around him and couldn't believe his eyes. Was 
the difference between them so marked? Probably not, he 
reasoned. It was only his astonishingly sharp mind that made 
the comparison so terribly obvious. But the fact remained 
that they were different, that none of them possessed his own 
new found alacrity. 



PRESSURE 



103 



Had he been like them, wandering around like a sleep- 
walker ? Was this new dimension he experienced kept forever 
from mankind by the enigmatic capsules ? If so, then Control 
was guilty of the most monstrous crime ever inflicted upon 
humanity. 

But although he convinced himself that the human race were 
the victims of a treachery that staggered the imagination, he 
could still find no tangible proof. And if he did find it, what 
then? 

He had tackled his task at Statistics with renewed vigour. No 
longer did his job seem senseless. He had an opportunity to 
find the facts he needed to corroborate the dreadful suspicions 
in his mind. And having found evidence he would find some 
way to display it. There must always be a way out, he kept 
telling himself, always . . . 

During the days which passed, figures flashed across his 
mind and registered heavily on his strengthened memory cells. 
For instance, world population stood at an appalling seven 
billion, and was steady. It had been steady for three quarters 
of a century. That in itself pointed out that the limit had been 
reached in expansion across the globe. Why then were the 
stars untouched ? 

He had put another question to the Computer. His card 
asked : " Does the human race travel to the stars and the nearer 
planets ? 

The machine quickly returned its reply 
Insufficient data. Gordon read. 

He tried again. Had mankind ever sent rocket ships to other 
planets ? 

Insufficient data, the machine insisted. Refer to Control 3. 

Gordon hastily destroyed the cards. Control 3 was his 
Staff Officer. If he ever found out that Gordon had been 
tampering with procedure ... He had no desire to incur the 
wrath of his superiors this early in the game. Later, it would 
no doubt be inevitable. But there was so much he had yet to 
uncover. 

His period of acute well-being was short lived. After a week 
or so his mental health began to deteriorate rapidly. At first 
he was unaware of this, but in the last week it had been forced 
home to him repeatedly. 



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Science Fiction Adventures 



It had begun with noise. The first offender had been the 
alarm buzzer signalling his lunch breaks ; its imperative sound 
would sometimes jar alarmingly on his nerves. Other sounds 
began to annoy him. Doreen's voice in particular achieved 
an horrendous nagging quality he had never imagined possible. 
Even the accustomed sounds of the busy Level encroached 
upon his peace of mind. 

He usually started a headache just before breakfast and it 
continued all through the day and into the night. Only sleep 
brought release. Every little noise seemed to magnify itself a 
thousand times and hurl itself at his consciousness. The 
assault continued twenty-four hours a day. 

So he had begun his diary. He thought vaguely that if 
anything happened to him then it might be discovered by 
others and perhaps they might get curious, like him and in that 
way the seeds of destruction might be grown in Control's 
system. But he didn't really have much faith in his fellow man, 
not after having observed them from his newly discovered 
plane. 

The liberation of his senses to a more acute degree also 
accelerated and increased the mental suffering he underwent. 
But through it all he managed to retain the clarity that had 
come with his refusal to bow to Control's will and keep taking 
the scarlet capsules. His newly-found wisdom, however, 
could find only one end to his quest if he continued along this 
pathway, and that was death. He had no concept of insanity — 
the very word was alien to his way of life. So he settled for 
death, and was even willing to face that rather than return to 
the lifeless existence of an automaton. 



The desk beneath Gordon's head began to hum noticeably as 
he rested and retraced his actions of the past few months. 

He opened his eyes, eyes that were suddenly very much 
afraid. He had never before noticed the vibration of the 
Computer's brain to such a degree. He looked down and could 
see that his arms were trembling as they braced themselves 
against the desk. 

What new madness was this ? 

His whole body was shaking now as the insidious vibrations 
of the computer passed through the desk and into his body. 
Short waves of pain started to gnaw at the false solitude of his 
mind. 



PRESSURE 



105 



He got up from the desk and walked around in a quick circle. 
The feeling passed, and he was left standing in the centre of the 
tiny cubicle and glaring at the chutes in the wall with intense 
hatred. 

Gradually, his anger cooled and he began to chide his own 
nervousness. He walked over and picked up a few cards from 
the stack and began to insert them into the narrow orifice. 
While he waited for the answers his mind rebelled restlessly at 
the irritating web of routine. A new unrest rose within him 
and mingled with the aural discord around him. 

Boredom ! 

He picked up another card and then flung it against the wall 
in a fit of temper. Then he wiped the stacked cards off the desk 
with one sweep of his hand. They spilled on to the floor and 
the sight sent a warm glow of satisfaction through him. 

He couldn't go on like this. The dreadful monotony had 
become too much to bear. He would not work. Let them do 
something about that, he had little doubt they could manage 
quite well without him. Censure would be inevitable, of 
course, but why worry about that ? One Level was as good as 
another in this rabbit warren. 

Something was pressing on his head. A weight, an intoler- 
able weight making his head ache unbearably. He pressed his 
hands against his temples and looked up at the low ceiling of 
the room. 

Not pressing on his head, really, but on him, his whole body. 
He felt as though he were suffocating from the weight of it. 
And then he knew what it was. 

The City. He could feel the unknown number of Levels 
pressing down upon him and the walls clamping him in his cell 
from all sides. 

" It's going to fall !" he yelled. " It's going to crush me . . ." 

He screamed then, and covered his face with his hands and 
backed towards the door. His hands fumbled with the catch 
and he stumbled through and fled down the corridor and out of 
the building. 

But outside was no different. The City stretched above him, 
Level upon Level without end. And it was going to crush him. 

He ran on to the footstrips, whimpering now like a frightened 
animal, the words bubbling from his mouth, the product of a 
mind in the last stages of disintegration. His face was ashen 
and his eyes wild and lost. 



106 



Science Fiction Adventures 



He couldn't get away from the people. They were all 
around him, pressing in upon him like the walls of the City. 
And they were after him, they were all chasing him and trying 
to catch him. 

He ran and ran, faster than the whirring plastic strips 
themselves, weaving his way through a barrage of noise, 
wading through the molten symphony of discord when the 
going got heavy. Sound had never assaulted him with such 
force. His mind was a raw, gaping wound reeling under the 
impact of the snarling, snapping noise the City had unleashed 
upon him. The cotton wool plugs lodged within his ears were 
a useless joke. The discord had succeeded in by-passing his 
auditory senses completely and had instead attacked through 
the very stuff of his body. Every skeletal bone, every nerve 
fibre was a carrier of intolerable agony leading to the ultimate 
destruction of his mind. And there was nothing he could do 
to stop it, nothing at all. 

Except run. Back to Home, back to his tiny cell in his Unit 
block. Blind instinct took him there and slammed the door 
loudly behind him. He staggered into the apartment and 
headed blindly for the toilet. He groped inside the medicine 
chest and emptied the contents of the phials on to the floor. A 
carpet of scarlet capsules spread out before him. He ground 
them into the floor with his feet, whimpering like a cornered 
animal. 

He had lost his battle. Now they would come to claim him. 
He had no way of knowing that his end had been predictable 
from the very beginning ; there was no other way for the 
battle to go. He could never have won. 

He had no strength to scream. He let his body crumple on 
to the carpet and lay there, feeling the monstrous crashing of 
his heart beat and waited for the City to crush the last vestiges 
of life from out of his broken body. 

They collected the scattered fragments of his reason and 
made it whole again. And then, when he was once again able 
to think and act with all the faculties they had feared might be 
lost, they took him to see a man named Jager. 

The Control Psychologist was disarmingly friendly behind 
his wide desk. Gordon was questioned in a casual manner and 
answered readily enough. His three weeks in the psychiatric 
ward had taught him the uselessness of deception. A hard 
mask of hopelessness covered the hollow shell of his failure. 

Continued on Page 108 



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108 



Science Fiction Adventures 



" We have read your diary, Mister Gordon," Jager said. 
" We found it very interesting. However, there were a few 
things you neglected to explain. For instance, just why did you 
stop taking the capsules ?" 

" I was curious. I wanted to see what would happen." 

" And now that you have, what conclusions have you 
drawn ?" 

Gordon thought for a moment. " I think that the people of 
this City are being drugged for some reason, and the means of 
this sedation is in the capsules we are told to take." 

The psychologist regarded him thoughtfully. " Suppose I 
were to tell you that your hallucinations were the direct result 
of extreme vitamin deprivation, caused by your abstinence 
from taking the prescribed capsules ?" 

" Then I would call you a liar, sir. I'm not that much of a 
fool. And then there's other things as well . . ." 

" Other things ? Such as, Mister Gordon ?" 

Gordon took a deep breath and said : " Why are we cooped 
up in the Cities when we should be colonising other planets ? 
Why are we kept under all these lies, lies, lies ?" 

There was a glimmer that could have hinted at approval 
buried deep in Jager's compelling eyes. " You were right, 
Marshall," he said to the man standing immediately behind 
Gordon, " he is a damned determined fellow." 

The psychologist got up. " There's something I'd like you 
to see, Mister Gordon." 

The three of them moved out of the room and down a short 
corridor to a waiting elevator. The door slid shut and they 
began to ascend. 

They were going up, Gordon realized, and fought back a 
momentary panic. After all, he had no way of knowing if they 
were on Level 23 at all. He had no idea where the . . . 
hospital . . . was situated. 

But the lift went up a long way. He had never been so long 
in an elevator in his life. Slowly, the panic began to return. 

" Relax, Mister Gordon," Jager said, smiling affably. " It 
won't take very long." Beside him, the aide named Marshal 
regarded Gordon with stony indifference. 

" I think it adviseable to point out," Jager went on, " at this 
stage of the proceedings, that your curiosity was, shall we say 
— tickled ? — by Control very early in the piece. You exhibited 

degree of intelligence above the ordinary. That was why you 

ere put into Statistics in the first place. And then there were 



PRESSURE 



109 



those Histories planted in the Library and Old Grainger's 
bookshop on Level One . . ." 
Gordon stared at him blankly. 

Jager smiled. " Don't try to assimilate it all at once, Mister 
Gordon. It will come to you, all in good time." 
The lift slowed to a gentle stop. 

The psychologist thrust a pair of goggles into his hand. 
" Here, you'd better put these on. You'll need them." 

Gordon pulled the glasses over his head and adjusted them 
over his eyes. They considerably darkened the interior of the lift. 

" Better try and relax," Jager advised, " and prepare your- 
self for something rather unique. We wouldn't have brought 
you up here if you hadn't already proved your mental stamina." 

Before Gordon had time to ponder the meaning of his words 
the door slid open and light flooded the interior of the lift. 

Light such as he had never before seen. 

They stepped out of the elevator. Jager first, followed by a 
stumbling Gordon and with Marshall following closely behind 
him. 

Gordon let his eyes wander incredulously over the world 
around him. A great carpet of steel stretched away on all 
sides, the walls so far away he could not even see them. He 
squinted in the unaccustomed glare, thankful that the psycholo- 
gist had thoughtfully provided the dark glasses. Otherwise, 
the glare would have been abominable. 

The ground of this Level was unlike any other he had 
encountered. Smooth andflat, it boastedfew protuberances and 
no buildings whatsoever. He let his eyes rise to meet the roof 
high overhead . . . 

But there was no roof. Only a golden sky sifting the energy 
of the sun itself. 

He was standing on the roof of the uppermost Level of the 
City. And the glaring light all around him was the unimagined 
fire of the Sun ! 

Momentarily, he staggered under the weight of discovery, 
and Marshall supported his shoulders with a vice-like grip. 

Jager looked into his stunned eyes. " Well, Gordon, do you 
know where you are ?" 

He could only nod. And was that sparkling light in the far 
distance only sunlight bouncing from another myth-water ? 
Was that the ocean out there? Beyond the hated steel and 
plastic of the City ? 

But wasn't there something wrong ? The sky — that was it. 



110 



Science Fiction Adventures 



Wasn't it supposed to be blue, instead of this queer golden 
colour ? And where were the fleecy puff-balls called clouds ? 

He turned his questioning eyes to Jager and the psychologist 
seemed to read his thoughts. " Yes, it's not quite like you 
expected, is it Gordon ?" 

Gordon shook his head, wondering why the ageing psycho- 
logist sounded so bitter. 

" You wanted to know why the human race is chained to 
these cities when it should have claimed its birthright amongst 
the stars? Well," he said, gesturing up at the golden sky, 
" there's your answer." 

Gordon said : " I don't understand . . ." 

Jager didn't seem to hear him. " It was a little over two 
centuries ago," he went on. " We had a base on the moon and 
had sent automated probes to Mars, Venus, the Saturnian and 
Jovian systems. And then the Slugs came. The first thing we 
knew about them was a desperate radio warning from the first 
expedition en route to Mars. They were the first to see their 
gigantic sausage-shaped ships swimming in from Out There. 
They immediately sent word to us but there was really nothing 
we could do. We were like ants to men in the face of their 
superiority. 

" We could only watch while they busily divided up the solar 
system and reshaped the planets to suit their needs, and fear- 
fully awaited our own destruction. 

" But some sort of compassion seemed to prevail. When 
they could have slaughtered us as callously as we would have 
slaughtered them had the boot been on the other foot, they 
chose instead to shut us off from the rest of the system. For 
that matter, from the rest of reality as well. They spun this 
gigantic web around Earth, an incomprehensible warp of 
space and time that lets in the light of the sun but through 
which nothing from Earth can penetrate, and left us here to die, 
to kill ourselves, and so absolve them of the guilt." 

Gordon was beginning to understand. There had been a 
reason, after all. 

" So you see," Jager went on, " We had nowhere to go but 
our own planet. We spread and we built, always in the hope 
that someday, somehow man's ingenuity would find some way 
through the Barrier. 

" We were insane, stupid. Just because we had always found 
a way out in the past led us blindly to believe we would find a 
way out of this one. But we haven't, not in a hundred and 
seventy years. 



PRESSURE 



111 



" The population increased and the cities expanded to keep 
up with the birth-rate until finally a halt had to be called. With 
the human race shut out forever from the rest of the universe 
we were becoming a race of claustrophobes. Something had to 
be done or the race would perish from the explosion of titanic 
psychological pressures. Perhaps that was what the Slugs 
intended. 

" So the drugs were introduced. Tranquilisers, they were 
called. Over the years the dosages had to be increased to keep 
up with the mounting psychological pressures growing in the 
Cities. But there can only be one end to such a procedure. 

" We are breeding a race of psychological weaklings, 
Gordon. You yourself are third generation ; look what 
happened when you stopped taking the drugs. Your mind 
became susceptible to just about every phobia you can think of. 
You just couldn't take it. 

" The best of our brains are housed in the Upper Levels 
where the pressures are not so great, but even there its impos- 
sible to forget the implication of that golden sky overhead. 
They labour constantly to find some way of defeating the 
Barrier. In the meantime, our natural resources are being 
consumed at a dangerous rate. Only in the last quarter of a 
century have we harvested the ocean to any great extent. The 
only solution is gradually dropping the population to a level 
more appropriate to the living space. But even that can't go on 
indefinitely." 

Gordon nodded his head, impatiently. That much he could 
understand, but why the mystery surrounding his own break- 
down ? Why had they let it happen ? 

" That's easy to understand, Gordon. We could easily 
introduce the tranquilisers into the synthetic foods — a certain 
amount is, by the way. If you hadn't gone off your food to 
such an extent you might never have deteriorated as much as 
you did. 

" What we do not want to suppress is the natural desire for 
curiosity. Leaving the major intake of the drugs to the person 
by means of the capsules leaves room for the curious mind to 
ponder. You did that Gordon, but unlike a lot of others who 
merely lay off taking the capsules for an experiment and 
collapse into gibbering lunatics within a few days, you had the 
tenacity to pursue your theories to the limit. We had to see 
how far you could go. Otherwise, you would have been no use 
to us. 



112 



Science Fiction Adventures 



Gordon looked more puzzled than ever. " Use to you ?" 

" That's right. We need every rebel we can get. That's how 
we manage to weed out prospective Top Level workers from 
the millions of drugged, happy people we keep down there. 
The minor wayward types who only experiment but never really 
mean to go any further, well, we just patch them up and put 
them back into the rat race. But for those with your tenacity, 
Mister Gordon, there lies a rich reward." 

That wasn't quite true, said the little voice of Jager's 
conscience. Most of the rebels went mad, their minds collap- 
sing under the impact of alien psychoses. Control patched 
them up as best as they could and sent them back to their 
respective units — heavily sedated, of course. It was a dreadful 
business, but thanks to the Slugs, all theycould do to combat 
the dreadful threat of race psychosis. 

" There are a number of choices open to you," he explained. 
Gordon listened dutifully. " You can work with the scientists 
on the Barrier after you've been given sufficient schooling — 
and I might add that that takes some time. Or you can move 
over to Ocean Maintenance, or Reforestation. But I'll give 
you a complete picture when we go back inside." He smiled 
and held out his hand, warmly. " Congratulations, Mister 
Gordon, on passing the most rigid test a man ever had." 

Gordon took the hand in his own and felt the warmth and 
friendliness pass between them. A great weight seemed to have 
lifted from his mind. It would be good to work with something 
like Ocean Maintenance. It was wonderful to be free, to be out 
in the open air with no cold grey roof above you . . . 

Wasn't it ? 

They walked towards the open doorway of the elevator. 

" We're not licked yet," Marshall was saying in a high- 
pitched voice. " We've always managed to lick our problems 
before." 

Maybe he was right, Jager mused. The Barrier, would not, 
could not remain forever. Somehow man would find a way to 
rid himself of the cruel bondage imposed by the aliens. But 
for the moment . . . 

For the moment he was tired. 

The door closed and they descended into the City. Back to 
the Levels, back to the daily grind and the endless sifting of 
intelligence. Back to his patients, all three and a half million 
of them. 

— Lee Harding 




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